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Hockey is back: NHL, NHLPA ratify CBA, return to play agreement

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The NHL and NHLPA made the return official: hockey is back.

Remarkably, the NHL and NHLPA also extended the Collective Bargaining Agreement through at least 2025-26, ensuring almost unthinkable labor peace for fans. None of this means that COVID-19 won’t wreck the party, but the NHL and NHLPA cemented those return details on Friday.

The timetable for the NHL return won’t leave much room to breathe. Players can opt-out of a return-to-play plan for a variety of reasons, but must make such decisions by Monday, July 13 at 5 p.m. ET.

This comes shortly after the two sides announced a memorandum of understanding earlier this week. The NHL attempting a two-city, 24-team playoff plan is bold enough; extending the CBA through at least 2025-26 makes this an incredible achievement. For hockey fans who’ve grown accustomed to lockouts, lasting labor peace feels almost unthinkable.

If hockey fans need more reasons to be ecstatic, consider this. The CBA extension sets the stage for NHL players to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics. That decision hinges on an agreement between the league and the International Olympic Committee, but this is a landmark day for the future of the NHL.

[Full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

Read more about the NHL return via this official document:

NHL playoff hubs in Edmonton and Toronto; 2020 Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton

After many twists and turns, Edmonton and Toronto were named as the two hub cities. Each city will host 12 teams (limited to 52 personnel apiece). Edmonton will hold the 12 Western Conference teams, and is also the planned spot for the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Meanwhile, the 12 Eastern Conference teams will play in Toronto.

With COVID-19 spikes in areas like Las Vegas and protocol stumbles in Vancouver, it’s been difficult to forecast which cities would serve as the two hubs. Now we know. Edmonton, in particular, has avoided the worst of COVID-19 outbreaks. Toronto’s dealt with more struggles (see: the outbreaks in Ontario in the map below), but brings some strengths for the NHL while not being hit as hard as many problem areas in the U.S.:

Alberta with 8,482 cases; Ontario with 36,178 as of Thursday (via the Canadian government)

[More on Edmonton and Toronto serving as NHL playoff hubs.]

Now, for the when: Key Dates for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, NHL Free Agency, Draft

So, we just covered the “where” for the NHL’s playoff return to award a 2020 Stanley Cup. Let’s cover the “when.”

July 13: Training camps open (Phase 3) and 5 p.m. ET deadline for players to opt out
July 26: Teams report to their hub city
July 28-30: Exhibition games
Aug 1: Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin (Phase 4)
Aug 10: Phase 2 of NHL Draft Lottery to determine No. 1 overall pick
Aug 11: First Round begins
Aug 25: Second Round begins
Sept. 8: Conference Finals begin
Sept. 22: Stanley Cup Final begins
Oct 4: Last possible date for Stanley Cup to be awarded
Oct. 9-10: 2020 NHL Draft (must follow end of Cup Final and take place before free agency)
Mid-Oct.: free agent period opens
Nov. 17: Training camps open for 2020-21 season
Dec. 1: 2020-21 NHL season begins

All of dates listed are, of course, tentative.

[Want even more details on critical dates for the NHL return? Click here.]

CBA extension keeps NHL salary cap flat for at least 2020-21

NHL, NHLPA hammer out a CBA extension, including flat salary cap and return to Olympics

Again, these agreements don’t just cover a playoff format where the 2020 Stanley Cup would be awarded. The CBA extension means lockout prevention through 2025-26, and possibly even 2026-27. That CBA extension sets the stage for the NHL’s return to the Olympics, pending an agreement with the IOC.

Consider some of the high points. You can read more about the flat cap and other financial details here.

  • It’s possible that the two sides could extend the CBA for one additional season (through 2026-27).
  • The two sides agreed to a flat $81.5 million salary cap for 2020-21.
  • That $81.5 million mark could also stick for multiple seasons. It all hinges on whether or not revenue bounces back — and when.
  • Players hate escrow, so limiting its impact was key. There will be a 20-percent cap on escrow for 2020-21. From there, escrow will scale down until it drops to six percent.
  • The two sides agreed to bring NHL players back to Olympic competition — pending negotiations with the International Olympic Committee. If that goes through, NHL players would participate in 2022 Winter Olympics (in Beijing) and the 2026 Winter Olympics (in Milan).
  • Players will defer salary to account for the financial impact of COVID-19.
  • The CBA extension accounts for certain salary cap loopholes. In short, contracts won’t be as front-loaded, salary bonuses won’t be greatly changed, and no-trade clauses will be honored more faithfully.

So, again fans: rejoice, and hold your breath. Maybe cross your fingers, too — especially in hopes that this process happens as safely as possible. This is huge stuff, and PHT will cover the developments as they unfold.

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: 26 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began (June 8)

NHL announces 26 players tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began
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The NHL announced that 26 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since the Phase 2 process began on June 8.

To be more specific, the NHL split up the positive COVID-19 test results this way:

  • 15 players involved in Phase 2 (skating in small groups at team facilities) tested positive for COVID-19. The NHL notes that at least 250 players reported to team facilities during Phase 2. During that process, the league administered at least 1,450 COVID-19 tests on those players.
  • Of course, there are also players who haven’t reported to team facilities. The NHL revealed that it is aware of 11 additional players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 since June 8, the beginning of Phase 2. Note that players outside of Phase 2 aren’t subjected to the same level of oversight as those voluntarily reporting to teams.

The NHL added that all players who tested positive have self-isolated and are following CDC/Health Canada protocols.

Here’s the full NHL release on 26 players testing positive for COVID-19:

 

On June 19, the Lightning shut down their team facilities after three players and multiple staff members tested positive for COVID-19. That only represented a brief pause, though, as the Lightning jumped back into Phase 2 on June 24. Around that time, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun also reported that Auston Matthews tested positive for COVID-19. The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t confirm or deny that report.

Pondering what’s next after 26 NHL players test positive for COVID-19 during Phase 2

The Athletic’s Joe Smith recently took a look at the Lightning resuming Phase 2 (sub required). That article conveys the self-quarantine process. Yet, at the same time, Smith also captures the lack of certainty amid this pandemic.

In other NHL return-to-play news, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the league is unlikely to make hub city announcements on Monday:

Various reports indicate that the NHL hopes to transition from Phase 2 to Phase 3 (formal training camps) in mid-July. Earlier, it was indicated that the target date was July 10. That might change thanks to recent events, however. In the latest edition of “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reported that the date could be moved by “three to five days, max.”

To get even more hopeful, the aim is for a full NHL return (Phase 4) in late July or early August. Obviously, that’s a work in progress. The NHL would need to clear hurdles to get there, especially if more players test positive for COVID-19.

Positive tests for COVID-19, hub city issues, and more NHL return stories:

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 announces return-to-play plans: 24-team playoff format, two hub cities

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[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

While there are still details to work out, the NHL made key return-to-play announcements on Tuesday. The highlights include: how the 24-team playoff format works, potential choices for two “hub cities,” and information on the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.

This post revolves around the 24-team playoff format and hub cities. Click here for more on the NHL’s return-to-play procedures for Phase 2.

One of the most important bits of new information is that NHL aims for formal training camps “no earlier than the first half of July.” We’ll get to that, and more, below.

NHL shares basic timeline to get through return-to-play phases; two hub cities details

Shortly after the pandemic pause, the NHL entered “Phase 1” of a return-to-play plan: players and staff practicing self-quarantining. The NHL shared the framework for the other return-to-play phases:

Phase 1: Pause and self-quarantineRegular season considered over. The NHL instituted the pandemic pause on March 12, with the regular season marked as ending as of March 11. The top 12 teams from each conference enter the 24-team playoff format, with positioning based on points percentage.

Phase 2: Noncontact skating for players in small groups at team facilities. The hopeful starting date for Phase 2 is early June. Again, this post covers the key points; if you want to read the 22-page NHL document, have at it.

Phase 3: Formal training camps starting “no earlier than the first half of July.”

Phase 4: 24-team playoff (including seeding games, play-in rounds) must still be determined.

The NHL also shared details on the two “hub cities” setup, including potential host cities:

• Chicago, IL
• Columbus, OH
• Dallas, TX
• Edmonton, AB
• Las Vegas, NV
• Los Angeles, CA
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
• Pittsburgh, PA
• Toronto, ON
• Vancouver, BC

* Each Conference is assigned a “hub” city with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities and in-market transportation.

* Teams will be limited to 50 personnel in the “hub” city with only a small number of support staff permitted to enter the event areas.

* Timing and sites will be determined at a future date and will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations.

How the 24-team playoff format works

The NHL shared the “competitive format” for the 24-team playoff setup in its return-to-play announcement. As you can see, “the round robin” pertains to the seeding for the top four teams in each conference. The “qualifying round” has previously been referred to as a “play-in” round. City 1 represents Eastern Conference teams, while City 2 will include the West.

Competitive Format

In each Conference, teams seeded by points percentage.

Round Robin: The top 4 teams play for First Round seeding (regular-season overtime rules in effect)

Qualifying Round: The remaining 8 teams play best-of-5 series to advance to the First Round (playoff overtime rules in effect)

First Round and Second Round: Format (seeding vs. bracket) and series lengths to be determined

Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final: Best-of-7 series

* The winners from the Qualifying Round play the top 4 seeds in the First Round. Individual First Round series matchups remain to be determined.

City 1 (Eastern Conference)

NHL return-to-play East top 12

City 1 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers

City 1 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round

#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets

City 2 (Western Conference)

NHL return-to-play West top 12

City 2 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars

City 2 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks
#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild
#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets

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.

Reports: Edmonton, Toronto more likely NHL hub city options than Vancouver

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Multiple reports indicate that Vancouver is becoming a less likely hub city option for the NHL. Edmonton and Toronto now have better odds if the NHL opts to go with at least one Canadian hub city, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

In an ideal world, Vancouver would be close to an ideal choice. British Columbia ranks as one of the larger areas that’s been least affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On face value, that makes Vancouver attractive. But the very caution that likely helped Vancouver/British Columbia limit the COVID-19 might make it a less desirable hub city option for the NHL.

LeBrun reports that:

  • The NHL is holding “more detailed conversations” with Edmonton and Toronto regarding their respective bids.
  • Chicago and Los Angeles are on “standby” if a Canadian hub city cannot fit the bill for the NHL.

It also sounds like Las Vegas remains a frontrunner to be one of the hub options for the NHL.

Let’s dig into why Vancouver reportedly experienced this setback.

Why NHL is reportedly less likely to go with Vancouver as a hub city

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman explained the “snag” for Vancouver as an NHL hub city on Wednesday. Friedman and Iain MacIntyre report that the stumbling block is over contingency plans if a player or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 within the hopeful “bubble” setup.

Global News BC’s Richard Zussman notes that Edmonton or Toronto might be more likely to give the NHL what they “want.” Basically, it would be easier to roll out a “show must go on” plan …

Vancouver briefly climbed the ranks because it was willing to entertain the idea of a modified bubble. Dr. Bonnie Henry explained as much in a June 10 letter.

“I am now comfortable indicating my support for this initiative as long as a very strict modified team quarantine and testing protocol as outlined in the plans is follows,” Dr. Henry wrote, via Zussman.

At the moment, it sounds like the NHL wouldn’t meet the right protocols if someone tests positive.

As you likely know, the Lightning experienced a COVID-19 outbreak last week. They closed their training facilities, but then opened things back up on Wednesday (five days later).

That sure seemed like a quick turnaround, and some host cities might be more comfortable with that approach than others. It’s possible a city’s approach could be pivotal:

This point has been hammered more than once, but a small window of time compresses these decisions.

Reports indicate that the NHL wants to make a hub city choice soon; some wondered if a call might even come this week. Other parts of the timeline remain vague, but the hope is to begin formal training camps (Phase 3) around July 10.

Making 12 teams apiece in two NHL hub city setups work sounds like a monumental challenge. It would be great if safety was the only consideration. Expediency and control appear to be important, too, and thus we’re seeing many twists and turns.

Positive tests for COVID-19, hub city issues, and more NHL return stories:

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.

Anson Carter shares profound thoughts on racism in hockey

As Blake Bolden said, Anson Carter created a “mic drop” moment during the latest “Our Line Starts” podcast (also with Jamal Mayers and Liam McHugh).

Carter spoke of a white friend who owns a New York hotel telling him that she’s become “exhausted” about having conversations about race relations. For her, a few days of such conversations left her mentally drained.

“I said, ‘Try having these conversations for 46 years,'” Carter said. “It’s like running a marathon. Training for a marathon, the first time you go out there, you’re exhausted. But, once you start building up that endurance every single day, it becomes a little bit easier. And that is what this is all about.”

Carter continued with a profound point. Many of us have the luxury to “stick to sports” and divest of these conversations when the marathon proves too grueling. Anson Carter does not.

” .. I don’t have that same ability to take the skin off my shoulders like shoulder pads and hang it up and say ‘OK, onto the next thing, I’ll go live my life now,'” Carter said. “This is my reality. And, when you think about it that way, people start to get exactly what everyone’s talking about.”

Wow. You can witness Carter’s “mic drop” moment in the video above this post’s headline, but the full episode is worth your time (and at the bottom of this post).

Anson Carter also appeared on “Lunch Talk Live”

Anson Carter brought some optimism about the future to his “Lunch Talk Live” appearance with Mike Tirico.

He notes that, during his playing days, it felt like “no one was listening.” Tirico and Carter also spoke about “In Union, There’s Strength,” the video Carter put together responding to George Floyd’s death.

“Just because we’re social distancing, doesn’t mean the hockey community is socially distant,” Carter said.

Full episode of Our Line Starts

2:40-5:35 Anson’s inspiration for producing his powerful video
5:35-8:50 Jamal, Blake, and Anson discuss their new role with the NHL
8:50-12:55 How can NHL players make a difference beyond offering support on social media?
12:55-17:10 Ways to foster a more inclusive environment at the youth level
17:10-20:45 Examples of how diversity can lead to positive change in the sport
20:50-24:30 Importance of making people feel comfortable to speak up
24:30-End Anson’s passionate closing remarks

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.