“We have a long way to go”: in the grip of uncertainty, NHL start date of January 1 is in jeopardy

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Away from the Thanksgiving rankings serving as a barometer of teams most likely to make the playoffs, the NHL is heading towards the US vacation without a firm plan announced for next season.The league and players are running out of time to start the season on January 1 as previously planned, with various issues related to the pandemic. There is uncertainty on many fronts.

“The scenery is – there are a lot of unknowns associated with our destination in the immediate future,” Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Monday. “Hopefully things, with all the positive news associated with vaccines and a hopeful climate that could potentially exist that we get back on track. But we have a long way to go. ”

Some of the preparatory work is already in place. A realignment with an all-Canadian division and regional play in the United States seems likely and should bring the thorny issue of cross-border travel back to the playoffs. The NHL and the NHL Players Association also agreed to a long-term extension of the collective agreement last summer to get hockey through the pandemic.

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But with the outbreak of the virus cases in North America and the prospect of an even greater shortfall than owners originally feared, questions have arisen as to how this deal will be changed, which put the start of the season in jeopardy.

Player salaries

Much like Major League Baseball’s struggle to start the 2020 season, it’s all about the money. The ABC – which now runs until 2026 – ensures a 50/50 distribution of hockey-related income; includes players deferring 10% of their salary for the upcoming season; and puts a cap on the amount of money that will be kept in escrow for the duration of the transaction.

Less than five months after the CBA deal, the league asked players to increase wage deferrals to 20 or 26 percent and increase escrow caps, according to a person familiar with the discussions. ‘is being interviewed on condition of anonymity with the Associated Press because neither party is publicly announcing the details of the negotiations.

Assuming the season is shorter than 82 full games, players might be hesitant to take pro-rated wages as escrow amounts are increased.

Start date

Both teams have targeted Jan. 1 to start the season. Some steps need to be taken soon for this to happen.

A training camp of about two weeks should precede the opening night. The later the season starts, the fewer games there will be. There could be as few as 50 or more than 70 games for each team, with the stipulation that the Stanley Cup is likely to be awarded before the Summer Olympics opens in Tokyo on July 23.

“What starts with me is, let’s start the season,” said Nashville general manager David Poile. “I’m up for it. No matter what the league and the PA think, this is the best way to get us back on the line, whether it’s with fans, fans, not fans, TV being [more] relevant, if you will. Everything you need to start this season and put it in place. ”

Realignment

A division made up of the seven teams based in Canada – Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver – makes the most sense given that the border with the United States is closed to non-essential travel until December 21 and maybe beyond. Bettman said earlier this month that the NHL is not moving those seven teams south of the border “So we have to look for other ways to play. “

If there was a Canadian division, three US divisions to reduce long distance travel might look like this, although discussions are ongoing and nothing has been finalized:

  • A division with Arizona, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vegas, Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota or St. Louis.
  • A division with St. Louis or Minnesota, Chicago, Nashville, Detroit, Columbus, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida.
  • A division with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, New Jersey, Boston and the three New York teams.

The playoffs in the same divisions would determine the final four to play for the Stanley Cup.

“Whatever that sounds like, to me, I know it will be well thought out,” Poile said. “I just don’t know what it’s going to look like now. “

Virus issues

Several Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights have recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Team facilities are open for voluntary training with protocols in place, although these teams have had to close off-ice areas.

After the NHL builds tight bubbles for the postseason in the midst of the summer surge, players testing positive – and how to handle that like other leagues have done – could be a factor in early 2021.

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