The NHL is not only in a position to resume playing within the next month, the league has the potential of enjoying labor peace through 2026.
The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association on Monday announced reaching a tentative deal on a return to play format which is coupled with the two sides agreeing to a memorandum of understanding on a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
Should both agreements be ratified, the NHL would proceed immediately to its expanded 24-team playoff format, with play beginning on Aug. 1. Under the plan, training camps would open July 13, with teams traveling to their respective hub cities for exhibition games on July 26.
A person with direct knowledge of the agreements told The Associated Press that the NHL has selected Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to be the hub cities in hosting the qualifying round and at least first two playoff rounds. The Carolina Hurricanes will play the New York Rangers in a five-game play-in series, and the Eastern Conference teams are expected to stay East and play in Toronto.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the league and NHLPA have not released this information. The person said the league is being cautious and allowing itself flexibility in the event of potential spikes in COVID-19 infections in not yet determining which cities will host the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.
The agreements need two-thirds approval by owners. On the union side, the agreements must first be approved by a majority of the NHLPA’s 31-member executive committee before going to a vote to the full membership.
The executive committee is expected to make its recommendation by the end of day Tuesday. If approved, the players would be expected to complete their voting process by Friday.
Extending the CBA, which was set to expire in September 2022, was considered a necessary step in restarting the season, which was placed on pause in March as a result of the pandemic.
The CBA extension covers numerous on- and off-ice issues, including the NHL’s potential return to the Olympics, the person said.
If approved, players would be in a position to compete at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 and Cortina Milan Games in 2026. In order for that to happen, the NHL would first have to resolve its outstanding issues, which include marketing rights and health insurance, with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation.
The NHL, NHLPA and IIHF had what were called productive talks earlier this year.
The NHL participated in five consecutive Olympics from 1998-2014 before skipping 2018 in Pyeongchang.
Financially, this CBA extension would address the monetary hit affecting the league and players as a result of lost revenues stemming from the remainder of the regular season being wiped out and with the resumption of games being played in empty arenas.
A second person familiar with the proposed agreement told The AP that players would defer 10% of salaries next season which owners would pay back over three consecutive seasons starting in 2022-23. The salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for at least next season, the person added, and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were not revealed.
Escrow payments to owners to even out hockey-related revenue at 50/50 would be capped at 20% next season, with the cap decreasing throughout the deal, the second person said. If owners are still owed money from the players, the CBA would be extended for an additional season.
Escrow has remained one of the biggest complaints of players in the past several years.
Over the weekend, the league and players agreed to an extensive series of return-to-play protocols involving training camps and games.
Players will be allowed to opt out of competing in the expanded playoffs and will have three days to make their decision once the agreement is ratified.