On Monday the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association ‘elbow tapped’ on an agreement that will see an additional four years added to the league’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Within this agreement is the outlined return to play structure and important dates, the announcement that NHL players will be able to attend the Winter Olympics and significant pieces of information regarding hub city lodging, safe practices and health policies.
After much work by the five NHL players who serve as part of the Return to Play Committee (Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Toronto’s John Tavares, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and Ottawa’s Ron Hainsey), the new CBA framework has been announced and now requires ratified approval from the Players’ Association.
Some further details regarding the CBA are as follows:
- Should the NHL and International Olympic Committee come to an agreement, NHL player participation at the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympic Games will be a go.
- A new United States NHL television deal is also a part of the detail within the proposed CBA.
- Conditions pertaining to the re-signing of players in trades will no longer be allowed.
- Player escrow will be capped somewhere from 20 percent down to six percent.
- The salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for the coming future until league revenue surpasses $4.8 billion. With the lost money since the beginning of the COVID, the NHL will not be raising the salary cap until money once again begins coming in.
The new CBA has been expected over the past few days, but provides some excitement for hockey fans, players and managers, as it indicates things are one step closer to a return to action. The possibility of the opening of training camps, qualifying round play-in series’, a round robin division leaders tournament and four rounds of Stanley Cup Playoffs are now officially on the table.
Although dates have now been set, the risk of potential rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave very well may shut down the entire operation. The league issued information surrounding protocol on extenuating circumstances that would cause a pause, stoppage or complete cancellation of the playoffs, and concern surrounding the pandemic was a key cog in that decision.
In one week’s time, training camps across the league will be open as Phase III of the return to play scenario gets underway. July 13 is the proposed date of day one of training camp, while participating teams and players will travel to the two hub cities (Edmonton and Toronto) for July 26. An exhibition game will then be played in the coming days, before August 1 – the opening day of the qualifying round and round robin tournament.
The NHL has announced the players will be living in a ‘bubble’ in their respective hub cities. Required to living in a hotel for the duration of their playoff runs, teams and players will be limited to their own rooms, fitness centres, hot tubs, common team meeting rooms and dining areas while living at the hotel. Families will not be joining players until the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final.
Everyone inside the bubble will be tested daily for COVID-19 via deep nose swab. Teams will be allowed to bring no more than 31 players (52 total team representatives) in the bubble. Each team’s list of personnel must be submitted by July 13 for league vetting. On that list of 52 are coaches, team physicans, medical and equipment staff, public relations officials and social media content creators.
Players will have the choice to opt-out of the return to play structure, but must make their respective teams aware of their decision by July 13. They will only be able to exit the bubble under extreme health conditions, the birth of a child or death of a family member. Mandatory quarantine will follow with observation for 14 days. Grocery and other deliveries will be provided to families of players while they are away.
Players will be required to wear masks at all times when outside of their individual hotel rooms. Masks will not be required when playing on-ice, training off-ice, eating or drinking. Coaches will not be required to wear masks on the bench. The players’ bench will be cleaned between each period of play, while the dressing room will be cleaned thoroughly after each use. Teams will be divided up within the supported hotels by floor.
10 referees and 10 linesmen will be positioned in each city, making a total of 40 on-ice officials for the postseason. They will follow set protocol and serve in the three-game-per-day schedule expected to be providing in the coming weeks, with enough relief should injury or illness arise.
At any point during the return to play, the NHL and NHLPA can call off a game, series or the entire postseason due to the threat of COVID-19 and the health and safety of all involved. Players who violate these rules and protocol will be subject to severe penalty and will be removed from the bubble and postseason. Players who do catch the virus will not officially be named, but will be put under quarantine and will not participate in any team activity for a minimum of 14 days.
This information comes on the same day that the league announced 25 positive COVID-19 tests since the official testing period began, this following the original diagnosis of 10 league members near the beginning of the pandemic. Although most players involved expect to be fine once in the bubble, the serious concern lies during the time between now and July 26, when players travel to the hub cities. With most players having now returned to their club’s host city, it is only a matter of time until official team workouts and on-ice training sessions begin.
Also included in the CBA is some resolution involving the league’s coming salary cap, escrow issues, and resolving a potential lockout following this season of play, where another halt to professional hockey post-COVID would not have been an enjoyable situation. Despite some flaws, the league and players’ association has teamed up with a united front to serve as the backbone of future years of professional hockey coming out of a pandemic.
The proposed CBA does still need positive ratification and the NHL’s Board of Governors are meeting on Thursday via Zoom to discuss the official wording and terms enclosed. While the full membership of the NHLPA is also required to vote on the new deal, which will take considerable time. With expected labour peace for six years, fans, players and owners should be excited at the thought of no potential labour strikes in the near future.