Bill Daly

NHL return to play Phase 2
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NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans

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The NHL announced a plan to enter Phase 2 of its return to play protocols, with hopes of taking the step by early June. If you enjoy staggeringly detailed documents, then this is your tonic.

To clarify, Phase 1 involved players and others entering self-quarantine. Phase 2 involves small groups of players (the league specifies six players, with a limited number of staff) returning to team facilities for noncontact skating sessions.

The league didn’t detail exactly when Phase 2 will begin (again, the goal is “early June”). Early June indicates that the NHL could theoretically begin Phase 2 as early as next week, though.

It’s not clear how long Phase 2 might last for the NHL, either. As detailed as the league’s plan is, there’s still an air of “to be determined.” The NHL didn’t publicly announce dates for Phase 3 (training camp) or Phase 4 (a return to play) in the memo.

Some more details on how the NHL plans to handle Phase 2

Depending upon how a player arrives at team facilities, it might be necessary to go into 14-day quarantine before entering team facilities. The NHL’s testing guidelines get a bit granular, so Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston shares some details that simplify and clarify certain aspects:

The memo also shares how players from other teams can access facilities if they live nearby.

The NHL emphasizes more than once in the Phase 2 memo that safety and fairness are top priorities. The league also includes this explanation around testing:

As an overriding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic
individuals from necessary diagnostic tests (“Publicly Necessary Testing”).

Again, there are still plenty of other details to iron out before taking the next steps. Consider some of the major issues still dangling:

  • To reiterate, the NHL still must determine the actual start time for Phase 2. We don’t yet know how long it will last.
  • Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (actual return to play) must also be determined.
  • When will the 2020 NHL Draft happen? How will the draft lottery be determined?
  • The NHL and NHLPA agreed upon a basic layout for a 24-team playoff format. There are still plenty of specifics to iron out, though.

So, we’ll see how a lot of this goes. Stay tuned at PHT as more develops.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL hopes extended U.S.-Canada border closing won’t hurt return to play chances

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NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly hopes that Tuesday’s news about an extended U.S. – Canadian border closing “will not materially affect the resumption of play timelines” the league is considering. Daly relayed that message to reporters including Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and the AP’s John Wawrow.

To clarify, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the agreement to close the U.S. – Canadian border crossing to non-essential travel has been extended. The border closing now runs through June 21, marking the second extension. (Before Tuesday’s extension, the restriction ran through May 21.)

Wawrow reports that some are worried restrictions will be extended beyond June 21, too.

Uncertainty about how U.S. – Canadian border closing may affect NHL

It’s tough to say how realistic Daly’s hopes are, considering the many variables involved.

Johnston explains some of the potential hurdles stemming from Canada’s requirements:

Travel restrictions could provide a barrier to getting NHLers back to their playing cities in hopes of holding three- to four-week training camps. Those restrictions currently include a 14-day period of self-isolation for anyone returning to Canada from abroad.

Johnston and others note that more than 100 NHL players are currently waiting out this situation in Europe. So there could be some challenges regarding travel.

That said, TSN’s Frank Seravalli provides background information for why the NHL’s reasonable to hope that such restrictions might not be a dealbreaker:

Healthy people may continue to cross the border for “non-discretionary” reasons – for work and employment purposes – and NHL players and team personnel fall into that category.

Most non-Canadian players on Canadian NHL clubs hold a work permit, according to an immigration source, which would qualify them as a temporary worker and allow them to cross the border during the pandemic.

A similar work visa exists for Canadian players who play for U.S.-based teams.

Even so, Seravalli adds that “border clarification remains one of the NHL’s biggest hurdles.”

The many difficult logistics of a possible return to NHL play

This development makes it tough to imagine Canadian cities ranking among the “hub cities” that may run NHL games (playoff or otherwise).

Multiple reports indicate that 24-team formats rank as the most popular NHL return to play solutions, at least lately. Some ideas called for two hub cities in Canada, and two in the U.S., with six teams in each hub. If Canada isn’t much of an option, it sure sounds like solutions might be a little … congested.

Running two hubs with 12 NHL teams each could be a challenge

To get all of that right, the NHL would need to really thread the needle.

Consider that each NHL team features 20 players (18 skaters, two goalies) plus scratches. That number could balloon depending upon “taxi squad” restrictions. Add in various staffers, and you’re talking about a lot of people per team. Multiply those staffers times 12, then in two different locations. That would mean there would be a lot of people — and thus, risks — to manage.

You can melt your brain thinking about the little details of keeping such a large group of people safe.

Also, If you have 12 teams in a hub, how many rinks/arenas would you need to be able to play games in a timely manner? How large of a bubble would you need to make such a “hub,” work, actually?

Maybe border closing is a chance for NHL to temper expectations about a return?

Honestly, it feels like the NHL and NHLPA might want to temper certain expectations. Sure, it would be great to get a robust training camp in, so players are as close to peak performance as possible. Such a lengthy prelude means rolling the dice that you’ll avoid wider restrictions, though.

And, yes, getting 24 teams limits worries about fairness. Players like Sidney Crosby speak about wanting a playoff with “integrity,” which implies a typical four-round, best-of-seven format eventually emerges.

But is that the most realistic scenario? Cooler heads might lean toward fewer games, fewer teams, or other compromises. The more ambitiously you add more games and teams, the more you risk pulling the plug before someone can credibly raise the Stanley Cup.

(Um, hopefully without anyone drinking out of it.)

Decisions coming soon … or not?

Once we roll past the many, many lingering questions that are difficult to answer, we get a clearer one. What’s next, then?

It sounds like there are mixed opinions regarding when we’ll get more clarity.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the NHL and NHLPA had been making some “traction” lately regarding return to play plans. LeBrun describes “constant dialogue” between the two sides since Saturday. With all of that in mind, LeBrun reports that there’s some hope for a “resolution” in 7-10 days.

On the other hand, Wawrow reports that decisions might not come “for another few weeks.”

Overall, it sounds like we’re in some ways returning to the same state: a state of “to be determined.” It’s difficult to figure out when we’ll get more answers, and also how often the questions themselves might change.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

2020 NHL Draft: Decision coming soon on early-June draft; could be a ‘toss-up’

While the NHL tries to figure out how to resume play, the league faces other tough questions, including a prominent one: the possibility of holding the 2020 NHL Draft in June. With it already being May 13, it makes sense that the clock is ticking on the NHL running an early-June draft.

Some interesting information trickled from the “Return to Play Committee” meeting from Tuesday, and other discussions.

Bill Daly told the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that the NHL expects a decision on an early-June draft as early as this week, but most likely sometime next week (sub required).

” … I do anticipate, obviously, at some point, whether it’s this week or next week, probably more likely next week, you’re going to have to make a decision,” Daly said. “But nothing is imminent.”

More from Dreger, LeBrun on possible early-June NHL Draft

Both LeBrun and Darren Dreger have captured the shifting moods around the NHL regarding an early-June draft.

Following Daly’s quote, LeBrun expressed a belief that the shifts went this way:

  • May 1: A memo went around to the NHL’s 31 teams, making an early-June draft seem like a “done deal.”
  • Recent Board of Governors meeting: However, objections from GMs slowed momentum down, now making it seem more like a “toss-up.”

While appearing on “Our Line Starts” this week, Darren Dreger depicted shifts in mood, too. Dreger said that negative reactions were “swift” about the idea of an early-June draft, but the feeling changed as the league made it seem like an early-June draft was important. From the way Dreger describes things, it almost sounds like there was a feeling of resignation from certain NHL GMs.

Echoing LeBrun’s feeling of an early-June draft being a “toss-up,” Dreger ultimately views the discussion as a 50/50 split.

So … I guess we’ll see, and possibly soon?

As Dreger and others note, an early-June draft would present the NHL with a lot of tricky, sometimes granular questions. If you can’t make trades, you don’t just hurt the buzz of the 2020 NHL Draft. You also make it tougher for teams to move around money, “get younger,” and do other things that are sometimes accomplished most efficiently during draft weekend.

(Naturally, whatever offseason situation that came about would still provide opportunities … just maybe not in the concentrated way you’d get during draft weekend.)

[PHT Power Rankings: Allowing trades and other ways to spice up a virtual, early-June draft]

Figuring out how to handle conditional draft picks from trades could be especially funky. What about trades where the pick gets bumped up a round — or more — depending upon how a team fares during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

It all inspires the question: would it really be worth it to hold an early-June draft, or would it be better to run the 2020 NHL Draft sometime after the conclusion of 2019-20?

Dreger on Our Line Starts

You can check out Dreger’s full appearance on “Our Line Starts” in several ways.

For one thing, you can experience the full episode in video from in the clip above this post’s headline. If you prefer audio-only, consider the options below.

Dreger discussed the following topics:

0:30-4:45 When will Phase 2 of NHL’s return begin?
4:45-7:35 Importance of testing, integrating families into restart plan
7:35-10:20 Long term future of salary cap, player compensation
11:15-13:35 Latest on hub city plan
13:35-14:35 24-team playoff format appears to be the frontrunner
14:35-17:00 Realistic target date to resume the season?
17:00-20:47 Will draft occur before season resumes, or after?

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

In trying to resume this season, NHL’s priority is also maintaining full 2020-21 season

Daly Bettman NHL resumption not at cost of full 2020-21 season
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As the NHL mulls over ways to resume the 2019-20 season and/or postseason, Bill Daly notes that there’s a key emphasis: not taking away from a full 2020-21 season.

Daly says NHL resumption plans emphasize not taking away from full 2020-21 season

That’s what Daly told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside during their Two-Man Advantage podcast. Here’s the key quote, via the transcript of that interview (sub required):

“The only definite for us is we certainly don’t want to do anything around a resumption of play this season that will impact our ability to have a full season next year,” Daly said. “So that’s kind of the outside parameters and rules we’re following currently. Everything else is kind of up for grabs for lack of a better term. There are lots of possibilities. We do have people working internally on those scenarios and what they look like and what the feasibility is.”

During other parts of that interview, and in other media appearances, Daly emphasizes how “fluid” this situation really is.

It’s an opportunity, honestly, to reflect upon how rapidly things escalate in 2020. It’s hard to believe that it hasn’t even been a full week since the NHL “paused” its 2019-20 season, but it’s true. (That happened last Thursday.)

Finding right balance would be difficult if it means an 82-game 2020-21 season is mandatory

If the NHL is steadfast in maintaining a full 82-game season for 2020-21, then they’re going to face a difficult juggling act. Particularly if they don’t want to jump quickly to a playoff scenario when play does resume, particularly a full four-round postseason, and the substantial allotment of time required by such a tournament.

Daly detailed just how many hurdles different plans would need to clear during that interview with Burnside and LeBrun.

“ … Obviously you have network partner obligations that we have to take into account,” Daly said. “And then we have to work through with the Players’ Association what the critical date calendar looks like. We need to work with our clubs on building availabilities. We have to consider whether a resumption of play is to a building that’s open to the public versus perhaps a resumption of play that doesn’t involve a building that’s open to the public. So these are all relevant considerations and variables none of which you can really align at this point behind a specific plan. So, it, like the situation generally, is very fluid.”

Indeed, when we gripe about a team’s imbalanced, road-heavy schedule, we often forget that arenas aren’t open 365 days a year (or 366 in a leap year, like 2020) to hockey. Getting dates lined up isn’t necessarily automatic, and stands as another obstacle in making plans.

That’s a hurdle that can be cleared, mind you, but that exertion can’t be ignored. And the point is that there are many of them.

How might this affect the draft lottery, and 2020 NHL Draft itself? What about training camps, free agency, and needed rest for players? Squeezing things too tight could substantially increase injury risks.

Many of us would like to see the NHL chop down the number of games in a season, but then there’s box office revenue to consider, not to mention the salary cap.

It’s all a lot to digest, whether you roll with the August to September plan being pitched or some other idea. Demanding an 82-game season in 2020-21 only makes it tougher, but it also might be needed for the league.

Getting it all settled in a week doesn’t seem realistic, especially when the world is still gauging the scale of the coronavirus pandemic. As Daly said, the situation remains very fluid.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL salary cap ceiling projected to increase for 2020-21 season

There was good news for NHL general managers on Wednesday. According to Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, the projected salary cap ceiling for next season is between $84 million and $88.2 million.

The current ceiling is $81.5 million.

What’s to be decided is if the NHLPA chooses to use the 5% inflator, which is where the $88.2M figure comes in. The $84 million number is without the inflator.

The final salary cap limits will be finalized in June. The percentage of escrow — currently 14% — going forward could play a role in whether the players use the inflator.

Using that potential range for next season, contenders like the Bruins, Avalanche, and the Stars are sitting good.

As the league and NHLPA continue Collective Bargaining Agreement talks, Daly said the hope is to get the cap information to teams earlier. There are also discussions about trying to come up with a multi-year cap for better planning purposes.

“Typically over the last several years, probably since we initiated the CBA, we haven’t been able to give them a cap number until late June, in and around the time of the draft,” Daly said. “Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll have a mechinism that allows them to have that information sooner.”

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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.