NHL's offer of CBA-for-Olympics a hollow one to players

The NHL’s proposal to the players of a three-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement in exchange for their participation in the 2018 Olympics will not be taken seriously, writes Tim Wharnsby.

No enticement for players to extend agreement in exchange for participation in 2018

Duncan Keith, left, Patrick Sharp, centre, and Jonathan Toews pose with their hardware after winning gold in the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL's proposal to the players of a three-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement in exchange for their participation in the 2018 Olympics will not be taken seriously.

It was more a publicity stunt from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

No more lengthy lockouts for another nine years and NHL players' participation in a sixth consecutive Olympics is sweet music to the ears of hockey fans. It sounds like a win-win development.

But there was no enticement for the players in this offer, a story first reported by Sportsnet on Wednesday.

The players have participated in the past five Winter Olympics, going back to 1998 in Nagano. They look forward to representing their countries in a marquee best-on-best tournament. The players who don't go enjoy the two-week break.

League, players can opt out of CBA in 2020

Why change the game plan? Why do the players have to give up something in order to continue their Olympic participation?

Besides, are the players that excited about continuing to part with 15-plus per cent of their salaries in escrow as they have under the current CBA?

This CBA expires in 2022. However, both the NHL and NHLPA have options in 2019 to end the CBA and labour peace in 2020.

The NHL floated this proposal to the NHLPA earlier this month. The association's executive director, Don Fehr, already had begun canvassing his membership and confirmed as much on Wednesday.

Was there any coincidence this story leaked after some positive developments in the drawn-out story of whether or not the NHL will be at the Pyeongchang Games in 15 months?

Officials from the NHL, NHLPA, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey met with International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel in New York City on Wednesday to listen to his plan on how the IIHF could foot the hefty bills for travel, insurance premiums on the player contracts, accommodations and hospitality.

NHLers at the Olympics: the saga continues

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We're still waiting to find out if NHL players will be able to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Who will pay? And when?

Bettman and his group have been skeptical about this plan. They want to know where Fasel is getting the money to pay for this and whether or not he is taking away funds from grass-root programs to cover Olympic costs.

Some question whether this is a genuine concern from the NHL.

The NHL isn't happy that the IOC has stopped its pay-for-play practice under president Thomas Bach because the men's hockey competition is the Winter Games' marquee event and the IOC financially benefits in a big way.

Fasel left the Manhattan meeting feeling he still has work to do in filling in the holes of his plan, but he remains confident a deal can be worked out.

Meanwhile, the players haven't changed their stance. They want to go. Some, like Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, claim they will compete in Pyeongchang no matter what.

NBC wants NHL at Olympics

There also is the fact NBC is the Olympic broadcaster as well as the United States television rights holder for the NHL. NBC wants the NHL in Pyeongchang.

If the NHL was serious about attaining an extended period of labour peace with the players in exchange for their Olympic participation, why not offer something tempting, like capping the escrow at 13 per cent?

Until then, don't take the latest NHL offer seriously.

Instead, there still is plenty of time to work out an agreement before the league-imposed January deadline as to whether or not to stay involved in the Olympic Games.

Is that deadline even real, considering the NHL didn't sign off on Olympic participation for the 2006 Turin Games until the previous summer, and a similar scenario played out for the Sochi Olympics in 2014?


Tim has covered the hockey landscape and other sports in Canada for three decades for CBC Sports, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun. He has been to three Winter Olympics, 11 Stanley Cups, a world championship as well as 17 world junior championships, 13 Memorial Cups and 13 University Cups. The native of Waterloo, Ont., always has his eye out for an underdog story.