Hockey fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The NHL appears to have their plan in place for their return to action, beginning in just a few days.
We’ll take a look at the new timeline the league and the 24 participating teams will abide by, along with some of the other big stories happening across the NHL.
NHL, NHLPA reach agreement on plan
Although it was widely expected to happen, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association reached a tentative agreement on a return-to-play plan for the 2019-20 season. In addition, the two sides also agreed to extend the CBA for another four years.
In this plan, Phase 3 would begin on July 13 with the opening of training camps in individual cities. Then on July 26, every team will travel to the two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, for additional training and exhibition games.
The Eastern Conference teams will play in Toronto, while the Western Conference teams will head to Edmonton, which will also host the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.
The plan would then move to Phase 4, the beginning of the 24-team postseason tournament, set to begin on Aug. 1. The qualification round will start things off, with best-of-five series for seed Nos. 5-12 in each conference.
The plan also details testing protocol, social distancing requirements, and how each player and staff member should handle living inside the “bubble.”
Getting the CBA handled was also an important part of hashing out this agreement. The new agreement will cancel out the current one for the next two years before tacking on another four years.
Some of the highlights of the new CBA include a flat salary cap until the league reaches $4.8 billion in hockey-related revenues, salary deferral, capped escrow withholdings, and the return of NHL players in the Winter Olympics beginning in 2022.
Now all that remains is voting. Even though the league and players have agreed, the NHL board of governors must vote to approve it. With training camps hoping to open in less than a week, expect a vote to take place very quickly, which would officially bring the return of NHL hockey.
NHL releases statement on testing
Following the weekend, the NHL released a statement regarding the latest round of testing results during Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.
“As of Monday, July 6, the NHL has had 396 players report to club training/practice facilities for optional participation in Phase 2 activities. There have been in excess of 2,900 COVID-19 tests administered (including more than 1,400 this past week) to this group of Players. Those tests have resulted in a total of 23 returning confirmed positive test results for COVID-19.”
The statement also mentioned that since June 8, there were 12 additional positive tests, bringing the total to 35 players across the league. Every player who tested positive has been self-isolating, and will remain anonymous unless the player or club publicizes it.
Price skating with Habs
For the first time since Phase 2 began, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price joined his teammates at their practice facility in Broussard, Quebec. Price made his return to Montreal on June 29, his first time with the club since the league paused their season on March 12.
Price had a down year by his standards but enters the postseason as one of the more experienced netminders. The former Vezina Trophy winner went 27-25-6 this season with a 2.79 GAA and .909 save percentage, which ranked just 32nd among goalies who appeared in at least 20 games.
As for the entire team, Price and the Canadiens went 31-31-9 but just made the cut as the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins in a best-of-five series in the qualifying round.