The NHL is one giant step closer to restarting its season.
Pending ratification votes by the owners and players, a memorandum of understanding was reached Monday on an extension to the collective bargaining agreement running through 2026. The deal includes transition rules and a new critical dates calendar.
Coupled with the protocols governing training camps and games tentatively agreed to Sunday, that should pave the way for a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament split between Edmonton and Toronto to start on Aug. 1.
The best-of-five qualifying round between the #Canucks and Minnesota Wild could get underway as early as August 1st. More hockey BG from my chat with @ScottRintoul: https://t.co/gIVEJnS8Ey https://t.co/AVa9AGXXC6
— Sonia Aslam (@SoniaSAslam) July 6, 2020
The series of agreements were the culmination of months of discussions and came after a busy week where the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and a battery of lawyers fine-tuned the plan to carry the league through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
Before training camps are able to open on July 13, ratification votes for the entire return-to-play package will be held by the NHL’s Board of Governors and the full NHLPA membership. A simple majority is needed among players while three-quarters of owners have to support the plan for it to move ahead.
Reaching this stage of the restart plan required a complex rethinking of the league’s economic system for the next couple years. Even though the current CBA was due to run through September 2022, a negotiated extension was needed with the NHL set to lose more than a $1-billion for the 2019-20 season and even more than that in a 2020-21 campaign that will likely be played in buildings at less than full capacity because of COVID-related restrictions.
Under the new deal, players will defer 10 per cent of next season’s salary and see another 20 per cent contributed to capped escrow. The upper limit of the salary cap will be held flat at $81.5-million.
As part of the NHL return-to-play agreements, any player wishing to opt-out of this summer’s restart for any reason can do so without penalty. They must notify their team in writing before camp opens.
The NHL is hoping to award the Stanley Cup to conclude a season paused March 12 by the rapid spread of COVID-19.
It decided on tightly controlled bubbles in two Canadian hub cities as the most effective way to do so. The remaining Eastern Conference teams are due to report to Toronto while those out west head to Edmonton following training camps.
However, with coronavirus infection rates spiking in parts of the United States, it could still be a challenge to get there without experiencing an outbreak because camps are scheduled to be conducted in each team’s home market.
Earlier Monday, the NHL announced that 35 players had produced positive COVID-19 tests since June 8. That came after the St. Louis Blues closed their practice facility Friday due to multiple positive tests.