NHLPA executive Paul Kelly met with NHL, IIHF and international hockey body representatives Wednesday.
When it comes to a long-term transfer agreement that works for both the NHL and the European hockey federations, the NHL Players’ Association holds all the leverage and what it chooses to do will go a long way toward whether or not an agreement can be reached.
That was the sentiment coming out of yesterday’s five-hour meeting in New York involving representatives from the International Ice Hockey Federation, the NHL and the NHLPA. Taking part in the meeting were NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly, IIHF president Rene Fasel, NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly and associate counsel Ian Penny and representatives from the Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia and Sweden.
A representative from Russia was invited only as an observer because the Russians are not part of the current deal, which was recently reopened by both sides. The prospects of having the Russians included in any new deal remain slim, according to sources.
Whether the sides can agree on a deal that works for everyone depends on whether the NHL and IIHF can convince the NHLPA to revise the collective bargaining agreement concerning the signing of European players. For the first time, under this CBA, European players are subject to the same draft rules as major junior players, which means they must be signed within two years of being drafted or they go back into the draft or are declared unrestricted free agents.
The IIHF argues that this forces teams to sign European players too early and, as a result, many are toiling in the minor leagues instead of developing with their European club teams. The IIHF claims that since the lockout, 160 European players have signed new NHL contracts, but just 25 of those players are actually on NHL rosters.
The IIHF has asked European players to be treated the same way as U.S. college players, whose rights can stay with a team for four years before the player must be signed.
The NHLPA is, understandably, not in a big hurry to go back into the CBA. The union argued at the meeting that getting Europeans in line with North Americans was one of the things it fought hardest for and one of the few concessions it received in a CBA that has been perceived to be one in which the players gave up a considerable amount.
At the very least, should the union agree to change the CBA, it will undoubtedly want to get something back in another area. Having players sign within two years, the union argues, is a benefit to the players, many of whom wouldn’t be signed at all if the team had time to wait on their development.
But the European federations claim that, while the current set-up might increase the odds of a player signing a first contract, having him develop at home and come to the NHL as a better and more mature player increases his probability of signing subsequent contracts. According to the IIHF, 621 players signed new contracts between 2000 and 2006 and more than 50 per cent of them returned to Europe without playing 400 NHL games.
The two sides were able to put a basic framework in place for one season.
It consists of the existing agreement with one change. The new proposal will see any European player drafted after the first round sent back to his club team if he doesn’t make the NHL roster, provided he is under 22 years old. The current agreement calls for non-first-rounders to be sent back if they are under 20.
All Canadian Hockey League players under 20 must be sent back to their junior teams if they don’t crack the NHL roster.
The Russians, meanwhile, don’t appear to be willing to budge on the position that left them out of the last agreement. They don’t agree that a contract with an NHL team should be able to usurp a contract in their league. Under the current transfer system, NHL teams have a window during the off-season during which they can sign European players who are under contract to their club teams.