The NHL and NHLPA have reached a “tentative agreement” to play 56 games in the upcoming regular season, with a start date set for January 13 of 2021.
That tentative agreement is pending a vote from the Board of Directors and the NHLPA, plus there are quite a few variables before anything concrete is established.
A divisional realignment is probably the biggest hurdle, especially given reports of an all-Canadian division. Adjusting to governmental regulations is par for the course, with Canada/US border restrictions and local limits on gatherings sure to present obstacles.
“The biggest challenge is making sure that our players and supporting personnel are safe and healthy and making sure that we’re not doing anything that puts the communities in which we’re playing at risk either in terms of spreading COVID or taking medical resources, whether it’s testing or vaccinations,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The next few days will feature a number of calls and potential agreements, including a reported Saturday call with the NHL, NHLPA and officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada along with medical officers from various provinces in Canada. The goal is to figure out a way to utilize the reported Canadian division without requiring bubbles or transferring the entire operation to the United States.
The issue in Canada is that many local officials are determining stricter health protocols, which could prove more than difficult if it appears that the NHL is seeking to “bend the rules.”
There are some definitive details, like the 56-game schedule.
The 24 playoff teams from last season will report to training camp on January 3, while the seven that did not make the playoffs last season will return to camp on December 30. No pre-season games are on the schedule.
There is no intention to prorate salaries, which means players will be paid in full after subtracting 20 percent escrow and 10 percent deferrals.
Teams will have a full 23-player roster, although flexibility is in place if clubs have to get under the cap. There will be taxi squads of four to six players, featuring skaters on two-way contracts. There are all sorts of salary specifics, including the fact that players sent back down to the AHL will be guaranteed at least 40 percent of his AHL salary regardless of how long the American Hockey League season is.
The NHL aims to test players for COVID-19 at least ever other day, while NHLers will have the option to opt out of playing without their absence counting against the salary cap. Teams can either wipe out the contract year or extend it without penalty.
So it looks like we’re inching closer to getting hockey back on the ice, even as a number of issues remain. The next few days will feature more critical details and we’ll all be watching closely.
Image: Associated Press/Mary Altaffer