As NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly fight a multi-front battle with NHL owners, the players, and COVID, a sudden wave of optimism for the 2020-21 NHL season to be played permeated around the league as the first weekend in December arrived.
The relationship between the NHL and NHLPA is souring once again, multiple NHL owners would prefer not to play a truncated 2020-21 NHL season, but as of Friday morning, there was a strong enough push from within the PA and more importantly from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly to soldier through and make sure we have NHL hockey back at some point next month.
“Unless COVID makes it impossible, I don’t think you have to worry about us playing,” the league source told BHN.
Prior to our conversation, outspoken NHL player agent Allan Walsh expressed his optimism amidst his anger and frustration over the owners asking the players for more deferrals and escrow.
“I am 99.99999 percent sure we are playing hockey this year,” Walsh said on TSN 690 Montreal early Thursday evening.
If the usually pessimistic Walsh is that sure there will be a 2020-21 NHL season that’s a really good sign!
Another good sign came Friday morning when TSN insider Frank Seravalli reported that the NHL has now shared first drafts of tentative schedules for the season. According to Seravalli, the proposed schedules were still based on a Jan. 1 start date but also allowed flexibility to start later. Seravalli’s colleague Pierre LeBrun later echoed Seravalli’s report but did say that the two sides have honed in on a January 15 start for a 56-game schedule with the Stanley Cup being awarded in early July. Both reporters stressed that the NHL and NHLPA have still not resolved their economic issues and as multiple sources continue to tell BHN, this isn’t just because the players would prefer to not redo the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
As reported in ‘Off The Record’ here two weeks ago, there was a small group of owners against having the 2020-21 NHL regular season and since then that group has grown. Some people say there are no more than six owners against playing but multiple NHL sources throughout the week speculated that the group had expanded to 10-12 owners.
According to the NHL source referenced above, Bettman and Daly now find themselves not just arguing on behalf of 31 NHL owners for more money from the players but also with a growing group of those same owners on why neither they nor the players can afford to see the season get wiped. Still, there will be some disgruntled NHL owners if and when the players take to the ice next month.
“Doesn’t mean there won’t be some who are unhappy about it from a purely economic perspective,” said the source.
For now, those and all NHL owners are choosing to remain silent on the prospect of a season and the new labor strife brewing. The fact that billionaire owners, in the middle of the same pandemic and knowing the chances were high for a second wave this fall, are coming hat in hand to the players now, has riled up the NHLPA Executive Board and the NHL players that were around for the last NHL lockout that forced a 48-game shortened season. However, as one NHL player agent told BHN Friday morning, the players are trying to treat this like they do when an opponent takes a run at them on the ice, trying to goad them into a retaliatory penalty. The players know the owners are taking advantage of them and the pandemic right now but they know they can’t afford to miss an entire season.
“Take a number and get them when the time is right,” said the agent. “The players know they’ve been cornered again and will have to accelerate that money they owe and maybe even pay more when all is said and done because let’s face it, this 50/50 rev share is bullshit now. It’s working more in the owners’ favor. That being said, the feeling I get talking to my guys and other agents is that now is not the time to finally take that stand. Everyone involved needs a season and the players want to give the fans a season with everything that’s going on in the world.”