The annual November pilgrimage of general managers to Toronto usually amounts to little news. The meeting, which comes the day after the Hall of Fame inductions, is more of a state-of-the game talk and basically table setting for the March meeting when rule tweaks or changes are recommended.
Last week’s GMs’ meeting was no different. Blindside hits were discussed, and maybe altering the shootout rules. They also got an update on expansion draft rules and finalized the must-be-protected list, which is composed of players with no-move clauses.
The bombshell news came a day later in New York City when word leaked that suddenly there’s a way NHLers can partake in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Many had just started to accept that the league was doing everything to keep its players from going. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association resurrected the World Cup of Hockey, owners don’t want to risk their players’ health by having them travel across the planet in the middle of a playoff race, and the league doesn’t want to halt the momentum in its schedule for two weeks while not gaining anything in revenue.
The International Ice Hockey Federation secured the money to cover insurance and travel costs of players. That, too, didn’t seem to sway the league.
But all of a sudden, word leaked Wednesday that the NHL had informed the players’ union that their constituency can participate in exchange for extending the collective bargaining agreement three years.
This apparently even blindsided owners.
The CBA, one that cost nearly half the season in 2012-13 to get, expires in 2022. It can be opted out of in 2020 by either the NHL or NHLPA, and that decision must be made in 2019.
Extending the agreement to 2025 is an interesting concept because it would allow the NHL and NHLPA to negotiate and implement a whole host of sport-growing, some revenue-building events in one fell swoop: the 2018 Olympics, the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, the 2020 World Cup, maybe a Ryder Cup-type of event, regular-season games again in Europe.
But the majority of players, despite the sport’s health and their record contracts, don’t trust a league that has locked them out three times in 18 years. And as much as the league is trying to take advantage of the players’ desire to keep playing on the international stage, it’s hard to imagine the union is simply going to extend the CBA three years in exchange for the Olympics.
Why? That nasty “E” word: escrow.
Players hate it. Example: In 2014-15, 15 percent was removed from each player’s paycheck right off the top before taxes and other deductions. Once NHL revenues were determined and a 50-50 split between players and owners was calculated, players eventually got a refund check of 2.05 percent, meaning they earned 87.05 percent of their 2014-15 salary.
Last season, 17 percent was withheld, but because the 2015-16 season’s hockey-related revenue has yet to be determined, refund checks haven’t been issued. The first quarter this season, players are having 15.5 percent of their salaries put into escrow.
Players want there to be a cap on escrow, but that will never happen because then owners could get less than their 50 percent share. One way for players to contribute lower escrow would be to stop triggering the 5 percent salary cap inflater each summer. But players don’t want that because they want the cap to rise to maximize their July 1 salaries and owners don’t want that because then half the league that’s up against the cap would be in dire straits if the cap stayed static or declined.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr will communicate with his players what the pros and cons would be of extending the CBA.
Players I’ve talked to are perturbed the league’s taking this tack. It’s playing with the emotions of fans, they say, because the average fan doesn’t give a darn about rich people not wanting their already big paychecks trimmed. Fans just want labor peace … and NHLers in the Olympics.
Depending on how you look at it, this is a pretty sneaky … or shrewd … move by a league that you know still doesn’t want to go to South Korea.
John Tortorella’s annual crusade against morning skates resurfaced last week when the Columbus Blue Jackets coach said he was telling his players they don’t have to show up the morning of games.
“We bring them in here one time a day on practice days, but on game days we bring them in twice,” Tortorella said. “It doesn’t make any sense. These guys are creatures of habit and their routine, but that routine in our league is wrong as far as these pregame and all the overcoaching that goes on with that stuff.”
The New York Islanders are last in the East. That initiated the annual Jack Capuano Watch. The NHL’s fourth-longest-tenured coach was hired in 2010.
He was given a vote of confidence by GM Garth Snow, who told Canada’s TSN: “Jack is an excellent coach. We have good players. I love our coaching staff. In fact, last time I checked, he coached in the World Cup.”
A few weeks ago, Capuano took what many perceived as a swipe at Snow, saying: “Where are we going to get point production from? We took 134 points out of our lineup that we lost.”
He was referring to the Islanders losing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen in free agency.
• Last week was horrific for injuries to stars: The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos sustained a torn meniscus and will miss four to six months, New Jersey’s Taylor Hall will miss a month after knee surgery, and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau is expected to miss four to six weeks after finger surgery.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7:30 p.m. at Dallas
Wednesday: 6 p.m. vs. Winnipeg
Friday: 3 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh
Saturday: 7 p.m. at St. Louis
All games on FSN
Player to watch: Patrik Laine, Jets
Five months shy of even being 19, the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft is leading the league in goals.
“Hellebuyck? Ohhhh, Haula back? I thought you meant Winnipeg’s goalie.”
— Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, confused when a reporter asked if he was excited to get Erik “Haula back” in the lineup.