NHL, NHLPA working toward Jan. 13 start; CBA will not be changed

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Are you ready for the 2020-21 NHL season to start next month?

That is a very good possibility after the league walked back its request of the players to increase deferred payments and caps on escrow during certain points of the Collective Bargaining Agreement extension that was ratified by both sides in July.

From Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

According to multiple sources, [the players] were willing to defer additional monies — in exchange for what they considered a meaningful concession. One of the suggestions, for example, was slightly raising the salary cap to put more money in the system. (Yes, that could increase how much players will eventually owe to balance the 50/50 split, but with escrow caps, it is not a great concern to the current group.)

No deal could be reached, and both sides decided to move on.

The financial hurdle was a large one for both sides in order to work out a format for the 2020-21 season. The league and players are targeting a Jan. 13 opening night with training camps opening Dec. 28 for the seven non-playoff teams — Buffalo, New Jersey, Detroit, Los Angeles, Ottawa, San Jose, Anaheim — and the rest on Jan. 1. The timing would likely mean no exhibition games and a schedule of around 56 games.

Where would games be held?

The players do not want another bubble situation, which is why early plans are for teams to play in their home arenas. But with COVID-19 rates differing in each market, and the U.S./Canada border situation, there will need to be some creativity in realigning the league for one year as well as the NHL season schedule.

From ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski:

The primary objective remains to have all 31 teams playing in their home arenas, with baseball-style “homestands” of three games between teams. That’s the preference of the majority of owners. That’s the preference of the players. That’s the plan that has gotten the most attention in NHL circles.

If COVID-19 rates prevent teams from playing in their own markets, like the Sharks due to what’s happening in Santa Clara County, there’s a possibility of sharing rinks. The NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, for example, are playing the remainder of their home schedule in Arizona. But a lot could happen between now and Jan. 13.

[Report: Teams look into outdoor games for 2020-21 NHL season]

While not the preference, “hubs” or “hybrid bubbles” could be an option. Per ESPN, the “hub” idea would see teams playing 10 games or so in a specific city over a two-week span. They would then exit the “hub” for a week to return home before coming back for more games. “Hybrid bubbles” would be looser versions of what we saw during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton. A centralized location would house each division with access being restricted.

So, we have progress, and a reason to believe they’ll be dropping the puck in just over a month. A deal would need to be hammered out this week so players could return to their home markets and quarantine depending local government regulations. Once there’s an agreement, the Board of Governors and union would need to approve.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.