The NHL and NHLPA finalize a tentative return-to-play agreement. Check out the details in today’s morning coffee headlines.
TENTATIVE AGREEMENT REACHED ON NHL RETURN-TO-PLAY PLAN
TSN/SPORTSNET: Bob McKenzie, Frank Seravalli, Elliotte Friedman, and Chris Johnston reported the NHL and NHL Players Association have tentatively agreed on protocols for Phases 3 and 4 of their return-to-play program. Here are the notable points:
The NHL & NHLPA reach a tentative agreement on the final phases of their return-to-play plan (Image via NHL.com).
Bob McKenzie reports negotiations to finalize an extension to the collective bargaining agreement are expected to continue Monday. That extension and the return-to-play plan must be ratified by the NHL board of governors and the NHLPA executive committee, followed by a full membership vote.
No ratification can take place, however, until a CBA memorandum of understanding (MOU) is completed. The PA membership vote requires up to 72 hours to complete and it’s unlikely to be held before Wednesday.
The target date for the start of Phase 3 (training camp) remains July 13, with teams traveling to the two host cities (Edmonton and Toronto) on or about July 26 and Phase 4 (playoff tournament beginning Aug. 1.
Phase 3 rosters are limited to 30 skaters and unlimited goaltenders. Only players eligible to play in the playoff tournament can take part in Phase 3 training camps.
Players can opt-out of Phase 3 and 4 without penalty but must make their decision three days following the ratification vote. Teams must submit their lists of participating players by July 9.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a change from previous reports suggesting a player could opt-out at any time without penalty.
Players will undergo a pre-participation medical exam. They and the team staff will also be tested for COVID-19 48 hours before reporting to camp and will be tested every second day afterward. If results aren’t available within 24 hours, they cannot report until a negative test is confirmed.
If a player is determined to be at substantial risk of contracting a serious illness, they’ll be deemed unfit to play and treated as a hockey-related injury, though they can also seek a second opinion. If a player or an immediate family member develops COVID-19 symptoms, he must immediately notify his team’s medical staff, self-isolate, and go through testing protocols.
Players are not permitted to skate at public facilities during Phase 3. Fitness testing of players isn’t permitted. Phase 3 fitness activities include on/off ice sessions with coaches and traditional training camp activities.
Teams failing to comply with return-to-play protocols will be subject to significant financial penalties and the potential loss of draft picks. That includes individuals leaving the host city bubble without permission, which could result in those individuals being removed from the tournament.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I wonder if that loss of draft picks could include their first-round pick in this year’s draft. That would be a powerful dissuasion to skirting the rules, especially for those 16 clubs in the qualifying round. One of the eight clubs eliminated from that round will have a chance to win this year’s draft lottery.
Phase 3 or 4 can be postponed, delayed, moved or canceled if either the league or the PA believe conditions could create a risk or jeopardize the health of players. If the PA is dissatisfied with the decision of the NHL commissioner, it can file a grievance with an independent arbitrator.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is a crucial point. A significant outbreak of COVID-19 among one or more teams could bring the return-to-play plan to a screeching halt.
Coaches won’t be required to wear masks or face coverings on the bench. There won’t be a dress code for players during Phase 4.
LIFE UNDER THE PHASE 4 BUBBLE
Frank Seravalli reported on what life would be like within a host city quarantine bubble during Phase 4. Among the noteworthy points:
Each team will be permitted to bring a maximum of 52 people, including no more than 31 players. That will include at least one physician and one club Phase 4 compliance officer.
Each player and team staff member will be subjected to daily COVID-19 testing. That also includes persons involved in housing, feeding, and transporting the players and team staff.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Unless those workers are also staying within that bubble, daily testing probably isn’t a foolproof way to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19.
Each player will have their own hotel room and won’t be permitted to enter each other’s rooms. Each team will be assigned designated floors. Housekeeping will be provided every third day.
Players will have access to hotel bars, restaurants, pools, and fitness facilities. The league is also considering approved excursions inside and outside the bubble. Players authorized to leave the bubble for medical or personal reasons (birth of a child, death of a family member, etc) will be permitted to return following a quarantine and testing period.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s important for the players’ morale to have access to entertainment and recreation facilities, especially for teams advancing deep into the playoffs. Those trips outside the bubble, as Seravalli noted, could be for excursions like pre-arranged tee times at golf courses.
The players’ immediate families will be permitted to join them within the bubble during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final once acceptable quarantine and testing have been conducted inside the bubble.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will be very important for those players. By that point, they’ll have been away from their loved ones for over five weeks.
Details of the plan could be released soon. In the meantime, I recommend following the links provided above for more information.
With a tentative agreement on return-to-play, I expect we’ll see a CBA extension at some point this week if Phase 3 is to begin on July 13. That will allow time for the PA membership to hold their vote.