On Tuesday, reports surfaced indicating that the National Hockey League is considering cancelling the 2020-21 hockey season by invoking Force Majeure – or a form of ‘unforeseeable circumstances that prohibit the league from fulfilling its contractual obligations’ – as a result of the ongoing global pandemic.
With the NHL and NHL Players’ Association having already agreed upon a new Collective Bargaining Agreement back in early July of 2020, ratifying the current deal with a four-year extension set to run through the 2025-26 season, that will see players earning 72 percent of their agreed salary during 2020-21 due to COVID-19.
In recent weeks, the NHL, the individual team owners and the Board of Governors have held meetings with members of the newly-formed Return to Play Committee (featuring the likes of Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp and Mark Scheifele), where conversation has turned rather negative from the owners, who are reportedly asking for another significant cut to player salaries, despite the agreement made this past summer.
NHL player agent Allan Walsh, who represents a host of prominent clients including Marc-Andre Fleury, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Huberdeau and Jonathan Drouin amongst others, is not buying that idea. Often outspoken and known as around the league as having a reputation for his unorthodox ‘tactics’ in defending his players, the Octagon Athlete Representation agent posted a series of tweets Tuesday evening relating to the matter:
“The NHL is soft floating the idea with media if no deal with the NHLPA is reached on the Return to Play, it can unilaterally invoke Force Majeure and cancel the 2020-21 season,” Walsh wrote. “There are so many flaws to this, I don’t know where to start. Does the NHL really think it can demand an additional $300M in concessions from players after negotiating the financial terms of the 20-21 season DURING the pandemic 4 months ago?”
“The Players agreed to accept 72% of their contracts due to the pandemic,” he added. “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?In reality, if the NHL cancels the 20-21 season because the Players won’t give another $300M in concessions, that is a LOCKOUT, which is expressly prohibited by CBA Art. 7.1 (b).”
Article 7.1 (b) of the NHL-NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement states: ‘Neither the League nor any Club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this Agreement.’
“If Gary demands players defer and/or forgo an additional $300 million in compensation to play the 2020-21 season, is he not threatening a lockout? If the NHL lawyers are advising owners they have a winning case here, I suggest they go back to law school. Owners will be subjecting themselves to billions in potential damages if they falsely invoke Force Majeure to cancel the season.”
“One more point,” Walsh wrote. “What about the NHL owners who also own NBA teams where both teams play in the same buildings? The NBA regular season is starting Dec. 22nd. However, the NBA owners who also own NHL teams will invoke Force Majeure due to the pandemic and cancel the NHL season?”
Although opening the floor to discussion, Walsh also predicts that the 2020-21 NHL season will only get fully underway in ‘late-January’, should it occur at all. With cities such a Winnipeg having strict gathering regulations in place (through December 11) training camp is not currently a possibility within the province’s capital city, or any city for that matter. At this point, only time will tell.