NHL and players ratify six-year return to play plan, ABC despite COVID-19 uncertainties

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Play on.

Well almost.

The NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Governing Council voted overwhelmingly on Friday to ratify a sweeping deal that includes a six-year collective agreement and a return-to-play plan that brings hockey back after a break 142 day history.

According to sources, full members of the NHLPA voted 502 to 135 with 78.8 percent, while the league’s vote was unanimous, as expected. Both required only simple majorities to succeed.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman congratulated the stakeholders involved “for coming together in extraordinary circumstances for the good of our game”.

“This agreement is a significant step forward for the players and the owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time,” said NJHL executive director Don Fehr in a statement.

Now, after months of intense work with two parties that have entered into the game’s first peacetime work agreement in more than three decades, the real NHL dance on thin ice begins.

The owners of the NHL said “yes”. NHL players said “yes”. Now they only need the cooperation of a virus that has claimed the lives of more than half a million people worldwide in the past six months.

Yes, the road back to the rink is paved with dangers, but the lure of the Holy Grail of hockey and over 100 years of history is on the other side.

NHL and NHLPA must safely navigate the arrival of 744 players and hundreds of staff in two secure “bubbles” in Toronto and Edmonton and avoid a massive COVID-19 outbreak to drop the puck in three weeks from Saturday August. 1.

Once installed indoors, the NHL is confident that its strict protocol will minimize the risk of an outbreak in order to award the Stanley Cup by October 4 in Edmonton. Every player and every person – from team staff to hotel maids – who has a chance to contact a player will be tested daily. Any positive test will require isolation and follow-up of contacts. The NHL says it can handle isolated individual or multiple positive tests, but it has not defined what it would take to pause the game or put a pin in the bubble, either due to health risks or the integrity of the game.

“Although we have all worked very hard trying to cope with the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety is and will continue to be our priority,” said Bettman on Friday.

Go carefully to training camp. Then in the bubble without much pushing.

Puis Giddy Up.

What awaits is March Madness on steroids. The bloody intensity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, for 14 hours a day, for nine consecutive days. And then the first round begins.

For starters, it will be games starting at noon well after midnight in the East – or more with the delirious joy of playoff overtime.

The top eight NHL teams will face off in seeded matches, while the remaining 16 will face off against the best of five to see who survives the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then, a traditional playoff series of 16 teams with four rounds decided by the best of the seven, will take over as planned.

Everyone, even the losing teams, has something to look forward to in the qualifying round.

All hub players will have a day off on August 10, when the draw should take center stage. The eight teams that do not qualify for the playoffs will return home with an equal chance of 12.5 percent in No. 1 overall choice and Alexis Lafrenière.

As October 4 is the last possible day of the Stanley Cup final, the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is tentatively scheduled for October 9-10, and will likely be held virtually.

Until then, with the only trip planned when the Toronto hub winners cross to Edmonton before September 8 to begin the conference finals, the NHL plans to cover each round as quickly as possible to minimize the time spent in the bubble.

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There will be sacrifices for everyone involved. Advancing players will be away from their family for at least five weeks before being allowed into the bubble during the conference finals. Hundreds of employees and public servants will not have the same luck.

The motivation to end the 2019-20 season in the face of a pandemic is undoubtedly motivated by business. Over $ 400 million US is at stake in a two-month tournament, as well as the priceless tradition of chasing the Stanley Cup.

The NHL and its players face the grim financial reality that remains. The new six-year CBA, which guarantees peace of work at least until 2025-2026, is not rosy for players. This is akin to a variable rate mortgage – with players paying homeowners a nine-digit ticket – with the resulting escrow cap serving as the interest rate.

Meanwhile, the players’ house will not appreciate much value as there is little room for growth with a relatively frozen salary cap for much of the next four or five seasons. Only the best and brightest NHL stars will not feel the crunch coming.

The problem for the players – and really the hawk owners who wanted the full amount owed by the players to be paid now on the spot – was that there weren’t many viable alternatives.

That meant Friday, even with more than a fifth of the NHL players expressing their dissatisfaction, was the next in a series of critical (if not painful) steps to restart the game.

Some 368 days after the start of the season, Lord Stanley’s chalice is now waiting – if COVID can cooperate.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli



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