The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and NHL Players Association is set to potentially expire in September 2019, when each side will have a chance to opt-out of the current agreement if they do not come to one of their own on an extension. It seems that one of the sides will most likely opt-out, and the Olympics is rumored to be a huge point of contention between the league and NHLPA after the owners decided to not allow their players to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics. In this article though, we’ll focus on whether opt-outs for player contracts should be included in the next CBA and what the fallout of pros and cons would be for all sides involved.
Opt-outs could benefit both sides of the aisle. If players have this clause in their contracts, it would change the way renegotiations take place. Look at scenarios where a player has an opt-out in their contract’s final year. If they want to, the said player could leave the team they are under contract with for free agency. If relationships between a player and front office, coaching, or other teammates deteriorates to create a negative environment, they could leave and play elsewhere for a fresh start the following season. If a club has an opt-out in a player contract, they could always get out of the said deal one year early without exercising the buyout option. A scenario like this could especially help a club in immediate need of cap space.
Also take into consideration how opt-outs could make long-term deals more appealing for both teams and players. If the new CBA allows opt-outs and instates a rule pertaining to long-term deals that permit a player or team to opt out from a deal after a minimum x-number of years (depending on the contract’s length), the aspect of signing star-caliber players to Tavares or Doughty-caliber deals won’t seem as daunting—especially in cases where teams are trying to lock up homegrown core players.
Overall, opt-outs would give organizations another tool to use to manage cap space and players.
Some downsides might include the idea of trading a player at the deadline because they are in the last year of their contract. As a result, there would be no guarantee of that player staying with their new team beyond the remainder of that season. Hypothetically, players with this clause could (technically) assure a team they won’t opt-out in the coming offseason but then change their minds. Perhaps there should be some sort of conditional law that eliminates a contract’s opt-out if the player is dealt on the season before that clause becomes exercisable (which could ultimately be detrimental to the player). If that doesn’t work, maybe postpone the opt-out for another year depending on how long the said player’s contract runs.
Another could be the formation of “super teams” like we’re seeing in leagues like the NBA. Organizations in the NHL form powerful lasting eras of continual contention because of consistently spectacular scouting, development, and evaluation of talent—not from stocking up on star-caliber talent (an approach that many NHL teams have previously tried—and failed). In an NHL where opt-outs exist however, what would stop a player from opting out of their contract 2-3 years in if they’re playing on a struggling team, so they could sign on with one of the league’s contenders for shorter term and higher salary? The thought of creating super teams is not something most fans or analysts could see happening, but the fact of the matter is that the door to that possibility would be open—especially since opt-outs would make those scenarios even more conceivable.