Before the NHL can return to the ice, both the league and players need to work out a lot of the details that will allow it to happen. Notably, this would mean a new CBA and a successful vote that would implement the return-to-play protocols that would set the stage for Phase 3 and 4, including signing off on hub cities and the protocols within each city.
It appears that the long road to return could soon be over. According to a report from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, the NHL and its players are closing in on a new CBA deal. It was reported that the new deal could be announced “as early as Sunday,” but that timing was characterized as “really fast.”
Even if it takes until early next week for a deal to be finalized, we could finally be learning both the details of the CBA that will allow for the league to resume play and the locations of the two hub cities. The agreement would also involve a vote from all members of the NHLPA on a return to play. As of Friday night, the vote has not yet taken place.
The framework of the deal would be a six-year deal that would include the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, which were both covered under the current CBA that was set to expire in September of 2022. One of the main aspects of the deal is the escrow. The escrow system allows a percentage of withholding from player paychecks to be funneled back to the owners in the event of revenue shortfall or refunds going to the players. The current system involves a 50-50 split in revenue between players and owners. Escrow withholding from the 2018-19 season was 12.9 percent with 3.25 percent returned to the players, resulting in a 9.65 percent loss for the players.
Given the overall loss of revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic, the new framework of the CBA being discussed includes a cap on escrow of around 20 percent for the first two seasons of the deal before reverting back to the traditional system. There are expected to be higher revenues generated from a new US broadcasting rights deal and with the addition of an expansion team in Seattle over that time.
A fall in escrow would also freeze the salary cap at $81.5 million. There is also talk of a 10 percent salary deferral for players, which was supported by both sides.
During recent CBA talks, there have been no discussions of agreement on international play or a return of NHL players to the Olympics.
Even with all of this progress made in CBA talks, it doesn’t mean things are smooth sailing just yet. The NHL and NHLPA are still negotiating and the magnitude of these discussions could delay the start of Phase 3 by a few days. There is still a lot of debate about whether players will decide to vote in favor of returning to play to complete the season, regardless of where the hub cities are located.
For now, we will continue to wait and see what comes from the latest round of talks around the CBA and return to play, but we could be getting much closer to a resolution.