NHL, NHLPA Reach Tentative Agreement on Return of Hockey

Hockey is (tentatively) back!

Amanda Stein reported yesterday on the Devils’ official app that the NHL and NHLPA have “reached a tentative plan for the 56-game 2020-21 season, which would begin on January 13, 2021.” This is sourced from an NHL.com article.

The tentative “agreement is pending a vote by the NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday that “We are focused on starting at some point hopefully in mid-January.” He continued “… It is clear that we will not be playing an 82-game schedule for the regular season, which we normally do, but we’re going to try and play as many games as possible.”

The league will, of course, be doing the temporary realignment for this season, with the seven Canadian teams in an all-Canadian Division. This is due to travel restrictions between the United States and Canada brought on by COVID-19.

This problem has been faced by both MLB (the Toronto Blue Jays) and the NBA (the Toronto Raptors) who have had to find temporary homes for their Canadian clubs. Luckily for the NHL (and Canadians, who do not have to see their teams playing on American rinks), the NHL has seven teams, allowing them to do this.

The Devils could be in a division that would possibly include most of the Metropolitan Division teams, plus two Atlantic Division opponents in the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. This comes from NHL Network’s NHL Tonight this past week when the hosts were discussing the possible realignment and return to play options.

The Devils themselves, according to Stein, have not played since March 10, 2020. She mentions that 10 months have passed since that game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hopefully by mid-January, hockey will be back full-time!

CBA Ratified by NHL, NHLPA

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association today made official that they have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement valid through the 2025-26 season.

Tom Gulitti, writing on NHL.com, said that the new agreement includes, among other things, a return to play in Toronto and Edmonton beginning on August 1.

Gulitti quoted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as saying: “Today, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a significant agreement that addresses the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, the framework for the completion of the 2019-20 season, and the foundation for the continued long-term growth of our league. I thank NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr and Special Assistant to the Executive Director Mathieu Schneider, the more than 700 NHL players – particularly those who worked on our Return to Play Committee – and the NHL’s Board of Governors for coming together under extraordinary circumstances for the good of our game. While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities. We know that all of our fans are excited about our return to the ice next month, and that has been our goal since we paused our season on March 12.”

Fehr also thanked “Bettman, Bill Daly and the NHL staff for their efforts towards finding solutions to the problems we face.” He also echoed the sentiment that it is great for the game to get back to playing and finishing the season.

Phase 3, according to Gulitti, will begin this Monday (July 13) in qualifying teams’ local markets. Gulitti says the teams will then travel to the Edmonton and Toronto, the two hub cities, on July 26. The Eastern Conference teams will play out of Toronto while the Western Conference teams will be located in Edmonton. Play in those cities will begin August 1, which begins Phase 4.

The qualifying round will see the eight teams play a best-of-five series against their opponents, while the top two teams in each of the four divisions will play each other in a round-robin style mini tournament to determine seeding for them.

Once the play-in best-of-fives are done, the playoffs will begin proper. Eastern series will take place in Toronto and be best-of-seven and Western series will take place in Edmonton and also be best-of-seven.

Both Conference Finals will take place in Edmonton and be best-of-seven and the Stanley Cup Final will also be best-of-seven in Edmonton. According to Gulitti, the Conference Finals will begin September 8 and the Stanley Cup Final will start on September 22 “and will end no later than Oct. 4.”

The Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery will be held on August 10 after the play-in best-of-fives are over. Gulitti says that the “eight teams eliminated from the qualifiers will have an equal chance (12.5 percent) at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.” Once all of that is set, the NHL Draft will be held on October 9 and 10. Free agency will commence once the Draft is over, although Gulitti did not specify an exact date for that.

The CBA also includes the NHL All-Star Game, NHL Winter Classic and NHL Stadium Series all to be played. Also, Gulitti mentioned an “international calendar and events including the Winter Olympics.” So, NHL players will be returning to the Olympics after taking the 2018 PyeongChang Games off.

On the Olympics, Gulitti said that the players will return at the 2022 Beijing Games and will be competing at the 2026 Milano Cortina Games. This is “pending agreements being reached with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee.”

On the financial end of things, Gulitti reports that “the NHL salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for the 2020-21 season with provisions for it to increase incrementally in the following seasons if hockey-related revenue reaches certain thresholds.”

For the players, he said that “escrow (the percentage withheld from player salaries and placed in an account used to calculate a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue) will be capped at 20 percent for the 2020-21 season, 14-18 percent in 2021-22, 10 percent in 2022-23, and 6 percent in 2023-24, 2024-25 and 2025-26.” He added that “a year will automatically be added to the CBA, through the 2026-27 season and expiring Sept. 15, 2027, if after the 2024-25 season the players’ escrow debt exceeds $125 million but is less than $250 million.”

Other financial notes include: players deferring “10 percent of their salaries for the 2020-21 season that will be paid out in equal installments over three seasons beginning in 2022-23.” The playoff bonus pool will be doubled from $16 to $32 million. Gulitti says that “the compensation to each player will increase each round.”

Minimum salary in the NHL “will increase from $700,000 to $750,000 in 2021-22 and 2022-23, and $775,000 in 2023-24, 2024-25 and 2025-26.” Likewise, “the maximum entry-level salary will increase from $925,000 for 2019, 2020 and 2021 NHL Draft picks to $950,000 for 2022 and 2023 NHL Draft picks, $975,000 for 2024 and 2025 NHL Draft picks, and $1 million for 2026 NHL Draft picks.”

It goes without saying that getting a new CBA in place and avoiding labor problems in the next few years is great. Too many hockey games have been canceled in the last 25 years or so due to lockouts (and a brief player strike in 1991-92 as well). It is great that the NHL and the NHLPA could come to an agreement to do away with any future problems. Getting the season restarted seems just a happy byproduct of the whole thing.