The interregnum having ended, the NHL having agreed to put its collective hand back in its pocket and accept the CBA that was ratified five months ago, the league and players are targeting Jan. 13 for the puck drop on a 52- or 56-game season, multiple sources confirm.
That would mean a relatively brief training camp to start either just after Christmas or New Year’s, which in turn would mean that the seven clubs excluded from the summer tournament would begin about a week earlier, which in turn means that players will be traveling in full force from all over the world to their respective cities over the next week in order to comply with existing quarantine rules.
It is believed that clauses in television contracts requiring a certain number of games and/or weeks to fulfill obligations are a major factor in this sudden acceleration to start the season, even as the pandemic rages across both the US and Canada, with local governments issuing new COVID-related restrictions by the day.
Mock schedules have been exchanged between the league and the union, though we’re told teams have not yet gotten a glimpse. The schedule is expected to include baseball-type series. Realignment in more geographically designed divisions that includes an all-Canada segment must be approved.
The sides must agree on health and safety protocols and the standard for postponing games. There are issues of roster sizes, establishing taxi squads and a COVID-restricted list apart from IR (Injured Reserve) and the related impact on the hard cap to be resolved.
Under the terms of every CBA since 2005, players on IR remain on the cap. If that is the case for the COVID-restricted list, teams at or near the cap (which is half the league) would have no option if hit by an outbreak. That is obviously untenable.
The AHL, a quasi-independent operation, has set Feb. 5 for its opening, but there are serious questions whether the league will be able to survive without revenue generated by paying customers. Several sources have suggested that games might be played at either their own practice rink or their NHL affiliate’s facility.
Three Canadian-based NHL teams have AHL affiliates in the US (Edmonton-Bakersfield; Calgary-Stockton; Vancouver-Utica). That situation will have to be addressed given cross-border restrictions.
The NHL backed off its ask for the players to return approximately $300 million to the league this year through additional deferrals and increased escrow caps when the union’s request for in-kind concessions made a do-over unpalatable to the ruling class. So the league will stick to the deal to which it agreed in early July.