NHL, NHLPA Reach Tentative Agreement on Return-to-Play and CBA Extension
The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association released a joint statement today announcing a tentative agreement on a Return-to-Play Plan and a Memorandum of Understanding on a four-year extension to the current collective bargaining agreement.
“As part of the tentative agreement, the following dates have been established:
July 13 – Start of formal training camps;
July 26 – Clubs travel to hub cities;
August 1 – Start of Qualifying Round.
The tentative agreement is now subject to approval by the NHL’s Board of Governors, as well as the NHLPA’s Executive Board followed by the full NHLPA membership. The respective review and approval processes will take place over the next few days and there will be no further comment until those processes are completed.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I hope to have more details as they become available for the Tuesday, July 7 morning coffee headlines. I suspect most of it will be information that has already been reported in recent days and duly noted on this site.
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.
More details on the return-to-play plan and CBA extension, an update on the Blues’ COVID-19 tests, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: Frank Seravalli reported yesterday the NHL and NHLPA were closing in on a tentative memorandum of understanding on an all-encompassing six-year extension on the collective bargaining agreement and a return-to-play plan to complete this season.
Could an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA be announced today? (Image via NHL.com).
It requires ratification by the NHL Board of Governors and the full NHLPA membership. The latter would require 72 hours to vote.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli said if an agreement was announced on Saturday the players’ vote could begin electronically on Monday. As of this update, there’s no sign of this agreement, though that delay could be due to yesterday’s American Independence Day holiday.
Seravalli listed the pertinent details of the proposed agreement, including the critical dates of the return-to-play plan, the term of the CBA (end of 2025-26 with a possible one-year extension), Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026 pending negotiations with the IOC and IIHF, a cap on escrow (20 percent next season and gradually dropping to six percent for the final three seasons), freezing the salary cap at $81.5 million until league revenue returns to $4.8 billion, and outlawing front-loaded contracts.
Other notable points include the players receiving a post-career health care subsidy of between $3,500.00 and $5,000.00 per player, the opportunity for players to rehab long-term injuries in a city or place of their choice unless the team can prove that rehab isn’t possible there, and no requirement for players who played in Europe to pass through waivers to return to the NHL provided they sign their NHL contract by Dec. 15.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The last one is a significant change. In the past, a player who skated with a European team at the start of the season who subsequently signed an NHL contract could be plucked off the waiver wire by a rival club.
Pierre LeBrun, meanwhile, reported the NHL remains focused on a full 82-game schedule for 2020-21 beginning in December or January. That would mean the Stanley Cup Final could be played sometime next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: They’ll have to get through this season first. If the return-to-play plan is carried out to its hopeful conclusion, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in the first week of October. The 2020 Draft will be held in mid-to-late October, and the free-agent market would open Nov. 1.
Earlier reports speculated the league would kick off next season on New Year’s Day with the 2021 Winter Classic in Minnesota. That would mean training camps would have to open in early-December, meaning the clubs that reach the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final under the return-to-play plan will have a very short off-season.
STLTODAY.COM: Jim Thomas reports further details were provided on the multiple Blues who tested positive for COVID-19. A source said it was four players and one coach. The problem may have started over a week ago when several members of the team visited a local bar. One player soon tested positive, followed by another player and a coach, and then two more players.
It’s unknown if any of the five displayed symptoms or were asymptomatic. Some of them could miss the start of the training camp period in Phase 3 of the return-to-play plan slated for July 13.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said these and other positive tests weren’t necessarily surprising.
“I think it’s fair to say that our experience to this point is consistent with what we expected,” he said via email. “We didn’t go down this road thinking we were not going to see any positives. Of course, we were going to see positives.
Daly cited factors such as players spread out across the globe, their individual behaviors, locations, conditioning, and modes of travel. He stressed the importance of “conservative approaches and response management” is critical at this point.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league’s approach has always been that isolated cases, especially those involving asymptomatic players, wouldn’t derail the return-to-play plan. That will be put to the test under Phase 3 when the players return to their NHL cities for mandatory training camps. While the teams will be undertaking strict health and self-distancing protocols, the players will be under greater risk of exposure in those cities than they will in the two hub cities for Phase 4.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Scott Powers reports a source claims Brent Seabrook hopes to rejoin the Chicago Blackhawks if play continues later this summer. The 35-year-old defenseman underwent surgeries on his right shoulder and both hips earlier this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seabrook won’t be the only player sidelined at the time the schedule was interrupted by COVID-19 who could return to action in the proposed playoff tournament. Others include Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, Columbus’ Seth Jones, the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider, and Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel.
A synopsis of Phase 2 of the Return-To-Play Plan, NHLPA director Donald Fehr is proud of the players speaking out against racial injustice, a breakdown of the Stars’ goaltending tandem, & more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Ed Graney provides a synopsis of Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan which begins today. Among the key points:
Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return-To-Play Plan begins today.
A maximum of six players on the ice at one time,
Players who live in a city that they don’t play for can use local NHL facilities,
Any player traveling to his team facility from abroad by other than private jet must self-quarantine for 14 days. Carpooling is also discouraged,
Goaltenders can hire an individual coach for one-on-one training but he cannot be a team employee,
Social distancing protocols (handwashing, use of sanitizer, no sharing of towels or flip-flops, showering elsewhere, no shared use of food or water) must be maintained at the facility,
Colored badges will designate a player’s access and that for non-players.
Coronavirus testing will occur 48 hours before accessing the facility and twice weekly. Players and staff will also complete symptom and temperature checks before departure. A positive COVID-19 test will be treated as a hockey-related injury.
Players skating at a team facility are prohibited from skating at a separate public rink,
Coaches cannot participate in on-ice activity but can observe from the stands.
TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox considers Phase 2 as the NHL’s cautious, careful road toward resuming play at some point this summer. He believes this slow start-up allows the league to observe and learn from the experiences of other sports that have already returned to action.
This phase brings optimism for those hopeful of completing the season and crowning a Stanley Cup champion. Others believe there’s a long way to go before that can take place.
Cox also reported the Maple Leafs have about 20 players in the area, including several still under a two-week quarantine after crossing the border.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There is a sense of cautious optimism that the league might be able to pull this off. The next big test begins next month when the teams converge for training camps.
SPORTSNET: NHL Players’ Association director Donald Fehr said he’s “really proud” of the more than 100 players who’ve spoken out against racial injustice.
“They understand it’s an important moment. They understand what the issues are, at least in the grand scope. And they’re making their voice heard. Not everybody, but quite a lot.
“And that’s to their credit.”
TSN: NHL analyst and former goaltender Kevin Weekes said he won’t mention the Greater Toronto Hockey League on television again until the amateur league discloses statistics about how often players are penalized for making racial slurs.
“I’m not mentioning the GTHL on the air if I can help it until there is reform,” he told TSN. “I’m on TV almost 200 days a year, on four different shows on the league network. I like to give credit both to players and to the organizations that help develop them.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars goaltending coach Jeff Reese recently broke down what makes Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin potentially the best tandem in the league by examining five key saves by each netminder this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Bishop and Khudobin, the Stars finished the regular season with the league’s second-best goals-against per game (2.52). They played a significant role in the Stars qualifying for the post-season tournament and will be crucial to the club’s Stanley Cup aspirations.
THE SCORE: Colby Cave’s AHL teammate Cooper Marody will release a song as a memorial tribute. The 25-year-old Edmonton Oilers forward died in April from a brain bleed following emergency surgery to remove a colloid cyst.
The league announces transition to Phase 2 of its Return-To-Play Plan, the Stanley Cup playoffs will follow best-of-seven format following the qualifying round, a Penguins player tests positive for COVID-19, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL ANNOUNCES PHASE 2 DATE OF RETURN-TO-PLAY FORMAT
NHL.COM: The league yesterday announced it will transition to the second phase of its Return-To-Play Plan effective Monday, June 8. The 31 clubs will be allowed to open their training facilities for small-group training as per Phase 2 protocols, which includes the approval of municipal and state/provincial health officials. A maximum of six players can train together at a time on a voluntary basis.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports not all clubs will be in a position to open right away. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston cites numbers of players in town, the appointment of hygiene officers, and the cost are among the issues. Phase 3, which is opening training camps, is expected to be implemented in July if all goes well.
2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS TO BE BEST-OF-SEVEN FOR ALL ROUNDS
The league also announced yesterday the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be a best-of-seven for all four rounds following the qualifying round. In each round, the highest remaining seed in each conference will face the lowest remaining seed, the second-highest remaining seed in each will face the second-lowest, and so on.
“Everybody is used to a best-of-7,” Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letangtold The Associated Press. “You know how it’s structured. You know how it feels if you lose the first two or you win the first two. You kind of know all the scenarios that can go through a best-of-7.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Only the qualifying round will be best-of-five. Chris Johnston reported the “integrity” of the playoffs was the deciding factor that was important for the playoffs. However, he pointed out the entire playoff tournament could stretch to 68 days, which could pose a challenge if there’s a second COVID-19 outbreak this fall.
Tiebreakers for the round-robin round involving the top-four teams in each conference will be decided by regular-season points percentage. Once the round-robin is concluded, the seeding order for those eight clubs will remain the same throughout the playoffs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports the league wanted a best-of-five format for the first two playoff rounds for brevity. The players, however, insisted on the best-of-seven.
PENGUINS PLAYER TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID-19
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW: The Penguins yesterday released a statement indicating one of their players tested positive for COVID-19. The player is not in Pittsburgh, self-isolated at home since he first experienced symptoms, and is recovering and feeling well. Those in close contact with the player since his diagnosis have been notified.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This player is the first in over two months to test positive for COVID-19. It is a reminder of the challenge facing the league in ensuring the health and safety of the players during training camps and the 24-team playoff tournament.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said one positive test wouldn’t derail the process. The league intends to implement daily testing to monitor all players and staff.
LATEST NHL CBA NEWS
TSN: Darren Dreger reports discussions between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association over extending the current collective bargaining agreement have intensified as of late. Escrow, the salary cap, and hockey-related revenue were the main discussion points.
An escrow stability plan is a crucial point for the players. They want to know if it’ll be 20 percent for the foreseeable future or more than 25 percent. They also want to know what the salary cap will be for 2020-21. Dreger said an NHLPA negotiating committee involving perhaps 10-or-more players is being formed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman cites multiple sources claiming there’s a legitimate attempt to get a CBA extension by the time play resumes later this summer. He suggested there could be a 20 percent escrow cap and a flat salary cap of $81.5 million for the next several seasons.
A CBA extension could be the only silver lining to emerge from the cloud of uncertainty currently hanging over the NHL thanks to COVID-19. The current agreement will expire in September 2022, but the last thing the league needs is contentious labor talks threatening yet another lockout in two years’ time. Both sides must work together to overcome the current financial issues they’re facing from the pandemic.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE SCORE: NHL Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree is troubled by the death of George Floyd and the violent confrontations between police and protesters in the United States.
“I’m 84 years old and didn’t think I’d witness some of the stuff that’s going on, but this dates back to the slavery age,” O’Ree said. “It’s very discouraging to see what’s going on now.”
O’Ree made history in 1958 by becoming the first black player in the NHL.
OTTAWA SUN: The Ottawa Senators foundation announced it will be severing ties with the hockey club’s parent group when their agreement expires on July 31. Ken Warren reports it’s believed Senators owner Eugene Melnyk wanted more control over the direction of the charity.