By Pierre LeBrun Dec 8, 2020
The financial stalemate that threatened to derail the shortened 2020-21 season is now dealt with, sources on both sides confirm.
“We are moving forward with the process of working through all of the issues that need to be addressed and agreed to, and that are obviously unique to playing a season during a pandemic,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic.
So now it’s about moving ahead and continuing to plan the season.
“There’s still lots to get done,’’ said one league source Tuesday morning.
The NHL Players’ Association finally did get back to the NHL over the weekend regarding its financial asks, as my TSN pal Darren Dreger first reported Monday night. But when the NHLPA made some CBA asks in return, the league said “thanks but no thanks,” as one source put it to me. You can’t fault the players for wanting something in return for potentially tweaking a document they signed five months ago.
Both sides confirm the financial terms from the Memorandum of Understanding, signed in June as part of the CBA extension, will stand as is.
So now it’s full steam ahead on continuing to hammer out details for the 2020-21 season, which both sides hope will begin on Jan. 13. Training camps could open as early as Jan. 1. There’s still sizeable work to be done on scheduling, COVID protocols, critical dates, etc.
And then, and this is key, once both sides finalize a season package, both sides will have to bring it to their respective constituents for clearance. The NHL’s Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board will have to sign off on the plans. And because there will be temporary changes to the divisions this year, re-alignment generally requires two-thirds Board of Governors approval. So that’s what will likely be needed when the Board votes. There’s a Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.
How many owners will be angry enough about not getting more financial concessions that they want to vote “no” on the season? You wouldn’t think enough to derail a season, but there are certainly some owners who aren’t happy with this turn of events. They felt they needed more salary deferral from the players to get through this year.
But for now, it’s about both sides working on season planning details.
There’s still some ground to cover and time is of the essence to get ready for a Jan. 13 puck drop.
Of course, the rising COVID cases around North America could still throw a wrench in these plans, it’s always important to note. The season start could still be delayed because of it.
For now, the aim is a Jan. 13 and a 56-game season.
Other remaining questions and details:
• Roster sizes: Obviously the NHL can’t have a season during the pandemic with normal-sized rosters. Sources said Tuesday the NHL has proposed a framework to the NHLPA dealing with rosters but the two sides have yet to iron that out.
• Schedule flexibility: With the NFL in mind, as Scott Burnside suggested in his piece last weekend, the NHL needs some flexibility and extra days in the schedule in case of COVID-related game postponements. But as one source pointed out Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA also wanted to maximize the number of games. So you’ve got conflicting objectives that need to be balanced there. But either way, there will be extra days in place in the shortened schedule.
• What about the forgotten seven? The NHL had promised, if possible, that the seven teams who didn’t take part in return to play last summer could have a pre-camp before all 31 teams open camp. At the time, the agreement was for seven days or so ahead of main camp. Now with the time crunch, expect that to be only a couple of extra days although that, too, remains to be finalized with the NHLPA.
• Will the players, like RTP last summer, have an opt-out option if they feel unsafe to play during the ongoing pandemic? It’s still being discussed, sources said Tuesday, but yes it’s expected individual players will be able to opt-out.
• Critical dates: With a Jan. 13 start date in mind, what dates are tentatively pencilled in for trade deadline, playoffs, NHL Draft, expansion draft, free agency? Sources on both sides said Tuesday that’s still being discussed.