NHL, union agree on return to play, CBA extension

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The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have reached a tentative agreement on a return-to-play plan to restart the 2019-20 season and a memorandum of understanding that adds another four years to the term of the current collective bargaining agreement.

The next step in the process is the voting. The NHL board of governors must approve the agreements. Once the NHLPA’s executive committee (one player rep from each of the 31 teams) gives the package its approval, the agreement moves forward to a full-membership vote.

The return-to-play plan includes rules and requirements for Phases 3 and 4 of the season restart after the NHL paused on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Phase 3 is the opening of training camps, which is scheduled for July 13 in individual cities, as well as traveling to hub cities on July 26 for additional training and exhibition games. According to the plan, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN on Sunday, Eastern Conference teams will play in Toronto and Western Conference teams in Edmonton. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held in Edmonton.

Phase 4 is the restart of the season in those hub cities with a 24-team postseason tournament. The qualification round of five-game series for Nos. 5-12 seeds in each conference is scheduled to begin Aug. 1.

The return-to-play plan includes testing protocol and explains how positive tests will be addressed; outlines social distancing requirements inside training facilities and the hub cities; specifies who can participate in the hub cities; defines life inside the bubbles; states when families can rejoin players; and spells out what happens if positive tests are too numerous to continue play.

If players decide not to participate in the restart, they can opt out with no questions asked within a three-day window after the full-member vote ratifies the new CBA.

The current CBA was due to expire in September 2022. The new CBA would overwrite the agreement for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and add another four seasons.

According to sources, the new CBA calls for a flat salary cap of $81.5 million for next season, where it will remain until league hockey-related revenues reach $4.8 billion, which was the amount projected for this season before it was paused; a one-time, 10% salary deferral by the players next season, paid back over the course of three seasons beginning in 2022-23; capped escrow withholdings each season, starting at 20% next season to make up the revenue shortfall for owners, before falling to 6% in the last year of the deal; and a return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026, pending a deal between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee.

The new CBA was seen as a critical aspect of the return-to-play plan due to the economic uncertainty from the COVID-19 shutdown and its impact on next season’s revenue. The CBA will cover revenue generated by the NHL’s next U.S. broadcast contract and by the highly anticipated Seattle expansion team, which is set to begin play in 2021-22.



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