Issues remain, but NHLers welcome labour peace, Habs' Gallagher says

The NHLPA decided to not reopen the collective agreement on Monday, averting the threat of a strike or a lockout for the next three seasons.

Montreal Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher during NHL action against the Minnesota Wild in Montreal on Jan. 7, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

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“As players, we just want to play.”

That was the way Brendan Gallagher described the NHL Players’ Association’s decision Monday not to revisit the 2013 collective bargaining agreement with the National Hockey League.

“There are still issues to be discussed, but we’re optimistic that the NHL will work with us and create an agreement going forward so we can play without a work stoppage,” Gallagher said Tuesday. Gallagher and Paul Byron serve as the player representatives for the Canadiens.

Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher during NHL action against the Minnesota Wild in Montreal on Jan. 7, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

The CBA, which ended a 119-day lockout, expires in 2022 but each side had the option of reopening the agreement this year. The NHL had a Sept. 1 deadline and announced it was happy with the status quo. The NHLPA decided to stand pat on Monday after getting a one-day extension on its Sept. 15 deadline. The decision averted the threat of a strike or a lockout for the next three seasons.

“We’re hopeful that the NHL can continue to create revenue growth,” said Gallagher. “That’s the important thing as players. We think we have a great sport and a great product and we’re hopeful it will continue to grow in the right direction.”

The two sides started talking in February and they will continue to talk in hopes that a new agreement will be in place before the current one expires.

The most contentious issues are escrow, medical coverage for players beyond their playing days and international play.

“Our main objective is to play hockey, but we have a responsibility to leave the game in good shape for future players,” said Gallagher. “We’ve had a lot of discussion and we realize there are flaws in the system and we had to decide whether we could sort it out while we’re playing or we really need to have another lockout or strike. We’re putting a lot of faith in the NHL to continue the negotiations and we can come to a solution that makes everybody happy.”

The players are not happy about escrow. There’s a 50-50 split of revenue between the players and the owners. At the end of the season, salaries are adjusted. If the total payout to the players is under 50 per cent, the salaries are topped up, and that happened in the early years of escrow.

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But escalating salaries have pushed the total over the 50-per-cent mark and the salaries have been clawed back. Last year, the payers gave back 9.5 per cent in escrow. That’s a lot of money for Carey Price, who earns US$10.5 million a season, but it’s more of a hardship for a player at the bottom who makes US$600,000.

Many players were upset that the NHL didn’t allow them to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of concern over travel, injuries and a disruption to the NHL schedule. If the NHL applies the same logic to its decision, it won’t be represented at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

“Representing your country is the ultimate thing for some players,” Gallagher said. “When I was growing up, every kid dreamed of putting on the jersey of whatever country you represent and you feel that should be one of your rights. We love playing this game and not having the ability to compete at the highest level is something we’re not happy about.”

Uncertainty over a work stoppage led to the cancellation of a World Cup tournament in 2020, but that competition could be revived in 2021.

phickey@postmedia.com

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