Toronto Maple Leafs: Will Escrow dispute delay restart of NHL season?

Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

As the Toronto Maple Leafs and the rest of the league prepare for training camp, is it possible there will be a delay due to a disagreement regarding the NHL’s current escrow system?

Toronto Maple Leafs fans are understandably excited, with NHL training camps scheduled to open July 10 and the play-in qualifiers starting around July 30. However, it might be a good idea to slightly temper that excitement.

As reported by the National Post, New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin wants the NHL to review the current escrow system. He is calling on his fellow players to not report to camp until the system is fixed.

Panarin took to Twitter to share his grievance. The 2016 Calder Trophy winner wrote:

"“For nearly two decades, the Players have protected the owners income with escrow, including throughout this pandemic crisis, even as owners’ equity continues to grow exponentially. It is time to fix the escrow.“We as players cannot report to camp to resume play without already having an agreement in place. We are all in this together.”"

Panarin did add that he is looking forward to returning to action with the Rangers. However, this is measured by his concern for the long-term prosperity of the NHL, as well as the health of the players and their families.

The way escrow works, is by the owners withholding money from the players’ salaries to make sure the correct revenue is achieved by the conclusion of the season. As the National Post noted, the owners and players each receive 50 percent of the NHL’s revenue under the present Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Panarin’s concern comes at a crucial point for the NHL, as they continue to outline and agree their return-to-play plan. To what extent the players take on board the Russian winger’s comments, could compromise the restart of the 2019-20 season.

As per the National Post, the NHL Player’s Association is preparing to vote on the league’s protocols training camp and the postseason. If they agree the escrow system has to be fixed, it’s entirely possible the players will not return to training camp on July 10, meaning the season won’t be able to resume at the end of this month.

If this happens, it brings to mind the recent, drawn-out and messy negotiations which took place between Major League Baseball’s owners and players. The league quite rightly received a lot of criticism for its almost tone-death approach, when considering the struggles of the general public during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hockey players are often regarded as the most humble and genuine athletes among North America’s major professional sports leagues. However, even they won’t be immune from criticism if any delay in the return of the NHL is as a result of money issues.

This would also be a headache for Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, who already have enough on their plate with challenges deciding which hub cities to choose to host games. (This is another issue for Panarin, who would prefer the Rangers play games in New York, to help bring employment and economic opportunities back to the area.)

As much as we appreciate Panarin’s position, the escrow system was agreed by both sides as part of the current CBA, which will run out at the conclusion of the 2021-22 campaign. In this respect, the league and the players are already in the process of negotiating a new CBA.

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With this in mind, as much as we will usually sympathise with players over owners in professional sports, we believe teams should return to training camp on time. Refusing to report on July 10 will only hurt their reputation and standing among fans and casual observers alike.

With the players having already received the majority of their salaries for the current campaign, Panarin’s concern relates to next season, when they are more likely to be hit by financial losses. This will be especially true if the pandemic results in fans not being able to attend games for some or all of 2020-21.

If negotiations are already underway for the new CBA, the NHLPA should just continue talking right through the summer. Work hard and attempt to at least resolve the escrow system ahead of next season.

If a new escrow system can be agreed, then perhaps the two sides can come to a compromise on when this is implemented. However, nothing is to be gained right now by delaying the return of the NHL (assuming it will still take place as planned).

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Do you agree with Panarin’s call for the escrow system to be fixed? Are you concerned that training camp won’t start on time for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the rest of the league, thus causing a delay in the resumption of the 2019-20 NHL season? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.