Just in case you thought the NHL was going to sail smoothly into collective bargaining this fall, word arrived the league served notice it plans to terminate the current agreement in September.
Under the terms of the existing deal, which expires at midnight Sept. 15, either the NHL or the NHL Players' Association has to provide notice to the other 120 days before the expiry date if it wants to terminate or modify the agreement. The NHL passed along its notification Wednesday, which was first reported by the Sports Business Journal.
Two sources close to the players said this was not a surprise and was simply a procedural matter. The notice had to be issued by at least one party, otherwise the current agreement would have remained in place for one more year.
In May, 2004, the league issued the same notice to the players when the previous collective agreement was set to expire in 120 days. The result was the loss of the entire 2004-05 season to a lockout by the owners.
The NHL made it clear in recent months it wants to begin negotiations this summer. However, history shows the serious bargaining will not start at least until the regular season is scheduled to begin in early October.
For the NHL's 30 owners, the major issue is the players' share of hockey-related revenue, which is expected to hit a record $3.2-billion (all currency U.S.) by the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The players received 57 per cent of the gross revenue this season, while their colleagues in the NBA and NFL accepted 55 per cent or less in agreeing to new collective agreements within the last year. The NHL owners are expected to demand the players reduce their take to less than 50 per cent.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said this season's revenue tops seven years of record income after the lockout. The league also announced television ratings are up substantially in the playoffs, particularly in the U.S.
The NHL is in the first year of a 10-year, $2-billion television deal with NBCUniversal for its national American broadcasts. There have been a series of announcements about rich sponsorship deals with a variety of major corporations, topped by a $375-million contract for seven years with Molson Coors that was signed last year.
However, the NHL is still a have and have-not league. While the richest teams turn profits in excess of $40-million, the teams at the bottom rack up losses in the same amount. The Phoenix Coyotes, for example, are perennially in danger of moving because they lose between $30-million and $40-million every year.