The National Hockey League is inching closer to puck drop for the 2020-21 season.
On Monday, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association agreed to push aside their differences in economic philosophy, opting to move ahead under the framework of the Collective Bargaining Agreement extension ratified by both sides in July.
That’s one huge hurdle down. But many remain as their joint focus now is squarely on hammering out the protocols and logistics to get next season safely underway amid skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers.
"We are moving forward with the process of working through all of the issues that need to be addressed and agreed to, and that are obviously unique to play a season during a pandemic," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday.
Sources indicated to TSN that the target start date of a potential 56-game regular season is now Jan. 13, though that date has not been finalized. Training camps would be slated to open approximately 10 days prior, around Jan. 2, and would not feature an exhibition schedule.
The seven teams that did not qualify for the 24-team finish to the 2019-20 season – the Devils, Ducks, Kings, Red Wings, Sabres, Senators and Sharks – were hoping to get one week’s head start on opening their training camps because they have not been on the ice since March. It appears now that a full week is unlikely, but they may be permitted to open around Dec. 28.
When those seven non-playoff teams begin is just one of the many logistical items open for discussion.
The two sides are still working through critical date calendars (trade deadline, playoff start and end dates, etc.), divisional realignment, testing and health protocols, roster and taxi squad limits, a potential player opt-out provision, schedule flexibility and how the NHL will navigate any interruptions due to COVID-19 outbreaks and local health authority or government restrictions.
As reported on Insider Trading on @SportsCentre, CGY, EDM and VAN plan to leave their AHL teams in 🇺🇸 for 20-21 season - making additional cross-border call-ups quite difficult.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 9, 2020
Manitoba, Toronto, Laval and Belleville plan to play in AHL’s all-🇨🇦 div.
Tentative Feb. 5 AHL start
All of that is to say ... nothing has really been decided yet. But these are some of the things they’ve been talking about.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 9, 2020
As you were.
There is no doubt that federal, local and regional health authorities, particularly in Canada, will have a large say in NHL operations for the 2020-21 season. It is unclear whether teams such as the Winnipeg Jets or San Jose Sharks would be permitted to open a season right now in their home arenas.
Those local health authorities, through the government, would likely need to sign off on season plans.
They are not the only ones. Both the NHL’s Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board will need to formally approve these changes for the upcoming season, including a two-thirds’ affirmative vote from the owners.
The hope is that an agreement can be reached in coming days to be put up for approval by the end of the week.
No detail should be taken for granted. Sources confirm that there are a number of NHL owners whose preference is to not play in 2020-21, particularly without financial concessions from players.
Sources indicate the NHLPA offered to defer additional salary to aid in owners’ cash flow for this season, to be paid back with interest, but had no appetite to make changes to the escrow caps bargained in July for future seasons as players pay back their ballooning debt to owners.
Those escrow cap changes will not be coming, at least not ahead of this season, with the potential for discussion to be revisited in the future. For now, at least, it’s full steam ahead.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli