Now that the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have reached an agreement on a 56-game season that will begin Jan. 13, they now face the monumental task of selling their vision for the 2020-21 season to public health officials in Canada. And that could be even more difficult.
A source close to the situation told TheHockeyNews.com that the NHL and NHLPA have a call scheduled on Saturday with officials from the Canada Public Health Agency, as well as medical officers from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, during which they will all try to find some common ground that would allow the league’s seven Canadian teams to travel and play each other without going into a bubble environment or force them to play their games in the United States.
And that may be a tough sell. At a time when numbers are rising all over the country and many health officials considering stricter lockdown measures, public health officials may be worried about the optics of bending the rules for NHL players and teams at a time when they’re telling everyone to stay home. It’s believed a number of the provinces are still in favor of a bubble, which would be an impossible sell to the players.
Another possible solution would be hub cities, where teams would come together to play games without the restrictions of a bubble. Ideally, the NHL would like teams to have the freedom to travel within Canada to complete the schedule.
Meanwhile, it has been a hectic time for the league and the players, who have spent the past weeks hammering out an agreement to return to play. And while the plan they agreed to Friday night is still subject to a vote by the players and the league’s board of governors, it’s believed both sides are looking at it favorably.
Some of the early details:
* Teams will play a 56-game regular season. The 24 teams that made it to the expanded playoffs will report for training camp Jan. 3, while the seven that missed will be able to hit the ice as early as Dec. 30. There will be no pre-season games and the regular season is scheduled to begin Jan. 3.
* If the Canadian teams can come to an agreement that allows them to stay in Canada, they will form a seven-team division. The other three divisions will be eight teams each.
* Divisions will be renamed for this season. Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington will comprise one division. Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Florida, Nashville and Tampa Bay will be in another division. Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas will round out the westernmost division. The top four teams from each division will make the playoffs and the post-season winner of each division will advance to the semifinals.
* Salaries will not be prorated this season, meaning the players will get their full stipends – minus 20 percent escrow and 10 percent deferral – despite not playing an 82-game season.
* Teams will be allowed to have rosters of up to 23 players, but some may choose to have fewer than that to get under the $81.5 million salary cap. Each team will be allowed a taxi squad of four-to-six players. Those on two-way contracts will receive their American League salaries and those on one-way deals will be paid their full amounts and those contracts will not count against the salary cap. Those players will also receive the NHL benefits package. Once a player is called up from the taxi squad, he is paid his NHL salary and it goes against the salary cap. Teams must be cap compliant all season.
* If a taxi squad player is sent down to the AHL, he is guaranteed at least 40 percent of his AHL salary regardless of how long the AHL season ends up being.
* In terms of pre-season fitness testing, players will be undoubtedly thrilled to learn there will be no VO2 max testing done this season.
* Players will be tested for COVID at least every other day.
* Players can voluntarily opt out of the season without pay without it counting against the cap. The team has the option of either extending the player’s contract by a year or wiping it off the books.