National Hockey League players will receive their final three scheduled paychecks, despite the season being suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN on Friday.
The players are scheduled to receive three more payments before the planned April 4 end of the regular season. The first paycheck, which they received Friday, was for services rendered from Feb. 24 to March 5. The second pay period was March 6 through March 23. The other paycheck covers the rest of the regular season.
This wasn't guaranteed for the players when the season was officially put on hold this week. The collective bargaining agreement gives NHL owners the ability to negotiate a different salary level for players in the event that the league "suspends, ceases or reduces operations" in its season due to "a state of war or other cause beyond the control of the League or of the Club."
The salary listed in the standard player contract (SPC) "shall be replaced by that mutually agreed upon between the Club and the Player, or, in the absence of mutual agreement, by that determined by neutral arbitration" if there is a reduction in operations, such as the regular season being truncated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This paragraph would authorize clubs to withhold payment of [players'] salary in the current circumstance, but we have advised clubs not to rely on [the] paragraph and to pay players and provide benefits in accordance with CBA and SPC," Daly said.
There was some speculation that the NHL could collect these paychecks while the league wasn't active in an effort to ensure the CBA-mandated 50-50 split in revenue between the owners and players on top of the 14% escrow withholdings from players' contracts during the season.
The NHLPA said any increase in withholdings has to be determined in accordance with the players' association, and the potential shortfall in the 50-50 split "won't be covered by one paycheck. Depending on how long the league's season is delayed -- or if the season is outright canceled -- the revenue difference could be covered by an increase in withholdings next season or subsequent seasons."
The NHL paused its season on Thursday, joining the NBA, MLS and MLB in putting their seasons on hold to help stem the coronavirus outbreak and as more communities with pro sports teams enact bans or make recommendations to limit large gatherings of people, including sporting events.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that after the NBA had its first positive test for a player with the coronavirus, his league needed to put its season on hold.
"For the last couple of weeks, we've been monitoring what's been going on. We went from dealing with things on a day-to-day basis to an hour-by-hour basis, and then it was in minutes. We were constantly evolving our strategy about our teams playing or not playing," he told CNBC on Thursday.
"But when the NBA had a positive test, and they had to cancel a game at that moment, it was clear to me -- and through all of our calculus, we knew -- that once a player tested positive, it would be a game-changer. I decided to get ahead of it. In all likelihood, we weren't going to get through the rest of the season without a player testing positive. Particularly because the Utah Jazz had used locker rooms within 24 hours of our teams using the same locker rooms in buildings that we share with the NBA. I just decided that instead of waiting for it to happen to just get ahead of it."
Bettman said the NHL's objective is to hold the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, even if the postseason stretches into what would normally be the league's offseason.
The NHLPA told ESPN that any change to the regular-season or playoff format would have to be mutually agreed upon by the players and the owners, per the CBA.