NHL, NHLPA optimistic they can avoid work stoppage

SAN JOSE, Calf. -- The NHL and NHLPA have begun preliminary talks ahead of the next collective bargaining agreement, and commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated: "We're not looking for a fight."

Speaking before the NHL All-Star Game, leaders from both sides expressed optimism they can avoid another work stoppage.

Bettman categorized the discussions so far as "cordial and constructive, even though they are preliminary."

His counterparts with the union echoed that.

"The thing that stands out to me the most is we're able to have these discussions with a lack of tension," said Mathieu Schneider, the NHLPA's special assistant to the executive director. "When you start bargaining meetings like we did in 2012 ... You could cut the tension with a knife in those first couple meetings, and in most meetings. And we're able to have these discussions now without that tension, without walls being built up, and it's been very positive so far."

As it stands, the current CBA lasts through the 2021-22 season. In September 2019, both sides can notify the other side of its intention to opt out.

The NHL has been locked out on three separate occasions over Bettman's 25-year tenure as commissioner. Among the core issues for players in negotiations is the ability to go to the Olympics -- the NHL did not send players to the 2018 Games in South Korea for the first time in two decades -- as well as negating or minimizing escrow.

"We're exploring the possibility of whether we can bridge gaps; the earlier the better," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "We obviously understand the difficulties we've had in the past. Both parties have acknowledged that. The fact that we're sitting down and having constructive dialogue on open issues at an early date is very positive."

Daly said there's been no discussion of the Olympic issue in talks with the NHLPA so far, other than citing that the players want to go and the owners do not want to.

There has been a belief that the onus falls on the players in these negotiations, since the owners are pleased with what they have seen in the current agreement. League revenue has soared to $4.85 billion (for context, it was $400 million when Bettman first started).

The owners also got a more favorable split of hockey-related revenue in the last CBA.

"There's no question the players have given back billions of dollars over the course of the past two negotiations," Schneider said. "That's no secret. I don't think I'd characterize it as the ball is in the players' hands."