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NHL files CBA termination notice to NHLPA

The earliest hope to avoid a lockout next fall was dashed when the NHL filed a notice of termination of its collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players’ Association on Wednesday morning, THN.com has learned.

Article III of the agreement provided a slim hope a lockout could be avoided, as it was when the NHLPA elected to extend the agreement by one year. The article states that the CBA, “shall remain in effect from year to year (after it expires) unless and until either party shall deliver to the other a written notice of termination of the agreement at least 120 days prior to Sept. 15, 2011 or not less than a like period in any year thereafter.”

Which means that if neither side had filed a termination notice before Friday, the agreement automatically would have rolled over for another year. But that will not be the case since the league has already notified the players it intends to terminate the agreement. The players had the same option, but there was little chance the NHLPA would have filed to terminate an agreement that has been largely favorable to them.

It was not a surprise that the league filed the notice of termination, since the NHLPA had been expecting it for months. But there was some speculation that with the possibility of a New York Rangers-Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup final, the league might want to capitalize on the upswing in interest in the NHL in the United States and avoid a lockout at least in the short term. Fuelled by the participation of large-market teams, viewership is reaching record numbers for NBC and the NBC Sports Network.

Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the NBC Sports Network averaged 1.29 million viewers per game, which is up 43 percent from last season. Across NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC, average viewership was 1.32 million per game through Rounds 1 and 2, which is the best on record and up 28 percent from last spring.

As far as CBA talks are concerned, the sides have not held any formal negotiations and are unlikely to do so until after the NHL draft. The NHLPA has received the financial information it has requested from the league and is currently reviewing it to prepare for bargaining.

That would leave both sides less than three months to hammer out an agreement in which the owners will be looking to likely reduce the players’ share of hockey related revenues and place limits on long-term contracts. The one thing that has been absent from the dynamic compared to 2004 is rhetoric from either side. (Although Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz recently reiterated that the Blackhawks continue to lose money despite close to 200 straight sellouts and alluded to, “a challenging business model.”)

No grand or cryptic statements from either NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr to this point could be seen as a positive sign. But it will likely be impossible to gauge the temperature of the situation until both sides actually sit down and start negotiating.

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