If you have been following the PHN Off the Record columns, you have been ahead of the pack on the NHL return. As national outlets have balanced the rancor between owners and players over the NHL owners’ demand to renegotiate the recently signed CBA, some on the NHLPA side have vented anger to PHN and her sister sites.
Because we promise our sources the chance to speak anonymously or “off the record,” the venting has been fierce. Two weeks ago, a prominent agent let loose for our OTR.
“When will the NHLPA finally say enough? That’s what’s happening here. It’s unreal,” the source fumed. “At what point do the players just say enough is enough. Obviously, they know the owners got them again, and they will look like greedy assholes if they hold out, but this does not bode well for the future.”
Tuesday night, prominent agent Allan Walsh, who represents some of the NHL’s biggest names, including Marc-Andre Fleury, let rip.
And he confirmed what PHN and her sister sites have been reporting. Some owners are ready to cancel the season, and the situation is rife with resentment.
Walsh accused the owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman of letting it be known the season could be canceled as a negotiating tactic while demanding huge CBA concessions.
“The NHL is soft floating the idea with media if no deal with the NHLPA is reached on the (NHL) Return to Play, it can unilaterally invoke Force Majeure and cancel the 2020-21 season,” Walsh tweeted. “…The Players agreed to accept 72% of their contracts due to the pandemic. NHL owners cannot now assert they don’t like the deal, demand $300M more from the players, and if the players don’t give in, cancel the season by invoking Force Majeure?”
Walsh asserted the recent CBA forbids a lockout, which was the tactic Bettman and owners used to gain player concessions in 1994-95, 2004-05, and again in 2012-13.
So, the owners are instead threatening to use Force Majeure to shutter the season. Force Majeure is a legal term that grants additional powers due to significant, unforeseen circumstances.
Under ordinary circumstances, the owners would have an easy claim to Force Majeure due to the pandemic. However, the owners signed the new CBA agreement at the height of the pandemic in June.
So, could the owners lay claim to the pandemic as unforeseen? Walsh said certainly not.
“If the NHL lawyers are advising owners they have a winning case here, I suggest they go back to law school,” Walsh’s tweetstorm concluded. “Owners will be subjecting themselves to billions in potential damages if they falsely invoke Force Majeure to cancel the season.”
The owners abandoning the season and the players suing?
Indeed, there is anger and snarling behind closed doors. If the Off the Record columns haven’t clearly given the indication, a top agent going public should confirm the simmering tensions.
Walsh replied to a few questions, including a rebuttal from TSN reporter Daren Dreger, who cautioned neither side wants to cancel the NHL season. However, on Tuesday, Dreger reported some NHL owners are growing frustrated, and owners could use Force Majeure to get around a lockout.
“…Owners say if that’s the case, then force majeure would be applied; it is a pandemic,” Dreger wrote. “And the NHL believes that in the spirit of their existing agreement, they’ve got cancellation protection.”
Walsh also responded to a contention that the NHL owners were in the right.
“The new CBA negotiated 4 months ago envisioned low revenue in 20-21 with players receiving more than 50% of revenues,” he replied. “The ‘overage’ is to be carried forward as an ESCROW DEBT owed to owners, to be paid back to owners in FULL over the remaining years of the CBA.”
So, the NHL return hinges on owners who want additional concessions that the players feel they’ve already given. It wouldn’t be hockey without a few elbows and a good scrap, would it?