TSN Hockey Insiders Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Bob McKenzie joined host James Duthie via videoconference to discuss the latest on the back and forth between the NHL and the NHLPA regarding a return to play, the status of potential hub cities and the possibility of the NHL Draft still taking place in June.


NHL/NHLPA back and forth on return to play

LeBrun: For starters, the return to play committee has met twice this week with the possibility of a third meeting coming at the end of the week. As far as I can tell, that’s the first time in this process that the committee has met more than once in a week, so it speaks to the urgency of the situation. Those conversations, I’m told, have gone from theoretical and spit-balling to absolutely going back and forth on detailed concepts about what a return to play might look like. That’s not to say we’re anywhere close, though, to a big announcement. I think it’s very difficult for both sides to come together on a solution that makes sense. When it comes to the 24-team play-in, it’s not for everyone. I think on the players side and amongst some team executives, the idea that Montreal and Chicago would be brought into that doesn’t sit well with everyone when you consider that under one model, the Canadiens would play the Pittsburgh Penguins in a play-in. The Habs were 15 point behind the Penguins at the pause. Still work to be done between both sides but they’re working away at it.


Do economic issues need to be part of the return?

Dreger: I would say there’s a developing story among players outside of that return to play committee. Some players want certainty that the escrow percentage that’s attached to next year and moving forward in the repair work financially is a workable percentage before puck drop and the resumption of the 2019-20 season. According to a source, there’s no indication that there will be a tie to the return-to-play scenarios with the economic CBA issues. There is of course an appreciation by all that coming back is crucially important to that repair job, both this season and the health of the sport moving forward, but some players want the economics determined now.


Will border closure affect the return?

McKenzie: The U.S.-Canada federal border has been shut down for all intents and purposes until May 21. There’s an expectation that could get extended to June 21, so that begs the question: what might that mean for the return to play for the NHL. The long answer is that it’s too complicated to talk about right now. The short answer is that because the NHL is in contact with both Canadian and American authorities, it doesn’t believe that this is going to be an impediment to return to play.


NHL trims list of bid hub cities

LeBrun: They’ve started to cut down the list, at the very least. There were 15 teams that showed interest in being a host city. Over the past week, I’m told, the NHL has started telling some of those teams that they’re no longer in the mix. There’s about eight or nine teams that are seen still as potential candidates to be one of those four host cities. I’m told that the three Canadian teams — Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto — are among the teams still in it, as well as Vegas and Minnesota among others.


Chances of June draft fading

McKenzie: Well, it’s not officially dead, but it may well be on life support. The NHL still thinks it’s a great idea to do the June draft, but obviously the widespread support isn’t there. I think the NHL is starting to get the idea that the time, the effort and the political capital that would be required to convince enough teams that it is a good idea, might not be worth it. No official word until next week, but it’s starting to look a little more pessimistic on that front.