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PHN Blog: Bettman Refutes ‘Renegotiations,’ BUT….

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NHL season, NHL return, Gary Bettman

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman refuted reports by national outlets such as Sportsnet, the Athletic, and the Hockey Now group. Or, more specifically, Bettman tried to recharacterize the actions with different terms. On Wednesday, Bettman firmly stated the NHL and owners are not attempting to renegotiate the recently signed CBA before the NHL Return this winter.

But in classic Bettman fashion, he also admitted the league wants economic changes to the agreement.

“I know it’s being portrayed as something else, and it’s unfortunate, and it’s inaccurate because at the end of the day if the system is stressed, it is going to be stressed for both of us,” Bettman told the Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers in Sport panel. “If we have to pay out lots of cash — two-thirds of which is going to come back to us — that will cause some stresses, but we can, or we will have to deal with it if we’re going to move forward.”

Tell me again how that’s not a renegotiation of the NHL Return to Play agreement and the CBA? Hopefully, you’ve been following the process with the “Off the Record” conversations.

Stick tap to Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston for transcribing Bettman’s comments.

It’s quite all right if the NHL owners and Bettman want to renegotiate, but weren’t we all warned of the monster second wave? Weren’t we told the vaccine would be available in November, at the earliest? I’m sure you heard people joking the vaccine would be available on Nov. 5, one day after the election (which wasn’t far off from the eventual truth).

If agent Allan Walsh’s angry tweets are any indication, the NHL may try to use Force Majeure, which is a legal term to allow a party to suspend the agreement due to unforeseen circumstances.

But would that work?

Were the owners ignorant of the probabilities or impetuous at the bargaining table? The answer is neither. Bettman may be slippery, but he is far from a fool. NHLPA head Donald Fehr buckled baseball owners time and again, yet Bettman is the one who hasn’t lost since owners caved on the 1994-95 lockout, 25 years ago.

“And by the same token, if the players owe us more money than anyone imagined, the salary cap could well be flat or close to flat for five or six years, and the players into the future will be repaying what we’re owed.”

Well, yes. Wasn’t that the point of the agreement?

Perhaps you recall this writer flatly stating that two or three years would not be enough to repay the losses, and the players would more likely have a flat salary cap for four to six years.

That was obvious.

As a business owner, I’ve learned the cardinal rule of expenses. Take what you estimate, factor the worst-case scenario, then double it.

So, Bettman’s “concern” for the players and a flat salary cap ring hollow. Perhaps some teams will need to tighten their belts, or buyout players they didn’t plan to sacrifice.

But a flat salary cap is not a reason for the owners to renegotiate. It would be a reason for the players to rip open the deal, but they have not done so.

Actually, a flat cap squeezes better teams and makes more players available for the lesser teams. Have not Detroit and Ottawa become the most improved teams this offseason?

If the NHL truly worries about a flat salary cap for the next six years, compliance buyouts are a quick and easy solution. So, too, are additional revenue streams.

I can’t divulge who floated the idea to us this week, but there is some support for advertising on jerseys. The idea is not yet widespread, but the idea is out there and has more support than before. Perhaps it will gain more traction as the sides scrounge for quarters in the couch cushions.

If the NHL and NHLPA have to sell out to make a few more dollars, so be it. Everyone understands, and all but the most ardent complainers will be OK.

Another solution to a flat salary cap for four to six years is patience. Accept that almost everything will need to rebuild, and there will forever be massive red ink on the balance sheets of nearly every business except Amazon, Netflix, and Door Dash.

Bettman may refute that the NHL is trying to renegotiate the CBA, but his words clearly indicate a renegotiation. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Would a rose by any other name…?

And the players have every right to say, “NO.” The NHL Return and CBA agreement was made in good faith, and very little information has changed.

One more note. The two sides MUST come together to play this season to burn off the TV contract’s final year. If they do not, the TV deal which pays the NHL less than their worth will exist for one more year, and that’s yet another LARGE revenue loss.

The owners will indeed get their money back. The players agreed to that last May in the Return to Play agreement. The owners can also profit right now by selling their teams. Many players will never recoup the losses if they give up too much now.

This is an easy situation being complicated by “not a renegotiation,” which seeks to renegotiate the deal. Some fans are mad at the players (reflexively) for making millions, without realizing they are instead siding with billionaires who will get their money back, one way or another.

The owners just want it sooner, but don’t call their holdup of the NHL Return a renegotiation, I guess.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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