As the old saying goes “The Devil is in the details”, how will the details of the new Union agreement affect the Colorado Avalanche resuming play and going forward?
Stemming from union disputes that predate the Colorado Avalanche, the term “NHL Labor Relations” has been viewed as an oxymoron amongst many of those affiliated with the league. Since 1992 the “Shield” has locked its doors on four separate occasions losing portions and in some instances entire seasons to labor disputes.
With the last dispute taking place during the 2012-2013 season, hockey fans have grown to hold their collectively bargained breath at any mention of labor talks in fear of another looming lockout. So naturally, to add to the growing lunacy that is known as the year 2020, the league and its player’s union have maturely, peacefully, and shockingly extended and ratified their Collective Bargaining Agreement without dispute.
In March of 2020, COVID-19 concerns shut the doors of the league and evaporated the remaining ticket revenue that the league budgeted its salary cap predictions on. With finances always being at the center of disputes during labor talks, the financial recovery really fueled the fire of negotiations and added to the shock of its mutual resolution.
At the end of the 2019-2020 season, the Colorado Avalanche was sitting in the top 5 of the league with a cap space of $5.4 million dollars setting themselves up in a prime position for the future. The newly ratified CBA would keep the salary cap at $81.5 million dollars for the 2020-21 season and keeping that number there for future seasons until the league can reclaim the losses incurred from this season.
The Avs find themselves with $3 million dollars more cap space than their closest division foes in Nashville and Winnipeg and a whopping $5 million more than remaining Central division foes of Dallas, Vegas, and St.Louis. This current flat cap may become detrimental to many teams in the league however the Avs find themselves with substantial wiggle room.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement also benefits players in several other aspects through 2025-26. The most notable of all is the resumption of NHL talent in Olympic games in 2022 and in 2026, pending an agreement between the International Olympic Community. This can be beneficial not just for the Avalanche but the league in general as an opportunity to grow the game internationally.
With almost half of the current Avs roster comprised of players born outside of the US and Canada, the chance to represent internationally and inspire the youth of the home countries is a dream opportunity. Winning a medal in Olympic competition has always been an asset for bolstering Hall of Fame careers and a degree of separation amongst players in the league.
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The primary topic of conversation in the CBA has been the official announcement of the hub cities in Edmonton and Toronto along with the key dates of the Return to Play. The Colorado Avalanche will be allowed a beefy 52 man roster when they arrive in Edmonton on July 26th. This allows the Avs to bring players such as Shane Bowers, Sheldon Dries, Logan O’ Connor, T.J. Tynan, Vladislav Kamenev, Kevin Connauton, Connor Timmins, Jacob MacDonald, Bowen Byram, Anton Lindholm, Adam Werner, and Michael Hutchinson.
Most significantly of those Avs listed is, of course, Bowen Byram, the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft who is coming off a 52 point season with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. The dream for many of the prospect watching Avs fans has been the pairing of Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, which might become a reality when the Avs take the ice August 2nd versus the Blues.
Finally, the newly agreed upon CBA will address some of the ways that contracts are handled as a whole. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the No-Trade clause of contracts can now travel with the player it is attached to, meaning if a player is signed or acquired with an existing No-Trade clause the team of ownership must honor it no matter who initially signed the deal. The only three current Avalanche players with such a clause in their contract are forward Nazem Kadri, defenseman Erik Johnson and captain Gabe Landeskog.
There will also be a differing of salaries to offset the losses of the COVID-19 pandemic stoppage allowing the owners to recoup a partial hit to the bottom line. Additionally, the escrow the players contribute to will cap at 20 percent in 2020-21 and gradually work its way down to a manageable 6 percent. This escrow was set up in previous Collective Bargaining Agreements to ensure that players and owners would see a 50/50 split of revenues and the fluctuation in the percentages is in place to offset the loss of revenues in 2019-20 without having to lockout the season or fold struggling teams.
The Colorado Avalanche have set themselves up in a very favorable position in spite of a league-wide financial hit. Their impressive cap space gives them the option to work a favorable deal with upcoming free agents Namestikov, Burakovsky, Zadorov, Wilson, Nieto, Jost, Barberio, Connauton, O’ Connor, Nichushkin, Kamenev, Dries, Greer, Graves, Alt, Megna, Hutchinson, Miska, and Bibeau if they choose to do so based off playoff performance.
Having their initial talent core locked down, with the exception of Landeskog who’s contract comes up in 2021, has been helpful in piecing together a supporting cast of talent. When looking at the league as a whole the Avalanche find themselves in rarified air where they can continue business as usual regarding cap space. While other teams will have an uphill battle retaining players contracts or acquiring top-billed free agents.
Based on the outcome of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs we will see how the Avs handle their embarrassment of riches going into the 2020-2021 season and to hopefully begin claiming Cup after Stanley Cup for many years to come.