The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have come to a tentative deal on both formal dates for a return to play and a four-year collective bargaining agreement extension. The current CBA runs through 2021-22, so the new deal would run through 2025-26. The league and the players’ association announced Monday that representatives for both sides have agreed on a CBA deal, as well as a return-to-play deal that would have training camps open July 13 in teams’ home cities, exhibition games begin July 26 in two hub cities (not officially announced yet, but widely reported as Edmonton and Toronto), and the postseason start on August 1 (not too far after the late-July date projected back in May) with a qualifying and seeding round. The July 13/July 26/August 1 dates were reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie as preliminary dates Friday, but they’re now official.
The deal still needs to be approved by the league’s board of governors, the players’ association’s executive committee, and the players’ association’s full membership, but it paves the way for this restart to go ahead. Additionally, as TSN’s Pierre LeBrun noted, this agreement would include Olympic participation by NHL players in the next two Winter Olympics (set for Beijing in 2022 and Milan in 2026), pending negotiations with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation. (The NHL was the big factor that kept players out of the 2018 Olympics, so while this could not happen thanks to the IOC or IIHF, Olympic participation is seeming pretty likely now.) But this deal isn’t final yet; here’s more on what’s ahead here from John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno of The Associated Press:
The agreement needs two-thirds approval by owners, and on the union side a majority of the 31-representative executive board and the full player membership.
Over the weekend, the league and players agreed to an extensive series of return-to-play protocols involving training camps and games. Players will be allowed to opt out of competing in the expanded playoffs, and will have three days to make their decision once the agreement is ratified.
We’ll see if this agreement winds up getting approved by the owners and the players. And it will also be interesting to see what the financial details are on it, especially with it being negotiated for an extra four years in the middle of pandemic uncertainty and with those extra years running past the end of the league’s national U.S. TV deal with NBC, which goes through 2020-21 and which apparently won’t even see further negotiations until next year. 2025-26 is the end of the league’s Canadian TV deal with Rogers Sportsnet, which is actually more lucrative, so at least that one is known. But it’s certainly interesting to see a CBA extension deal struck before we have a clue what the next U.S. TV deal will be.
Of course, all of the return-to-play information is tentative even if this agreement winds up being approved. Like many leagues, the NHL has seen some problematic COVID-19 test numbers so far, with 26 players testing positive from June 8-26 and that number now being at 35 since June 8. And there are perhaps some further challenges for the league with a proposed return to play in Canada; while the case numbers seem generally better there, and while Canadian federal government officials have been supportive of that return-to-play plan so far, that might change if the NHL’s test numbers continue to rise. The provincial government in B.C. already said the NHL’s plan didn’t work for them, which led to the removal of Vancouver as a possible hub city. While provincial governments in Ontario and Alberta, as well as municipal governments in Toronto and Edmonton, seem largely okay with the NHL’s plans so far, that could change with more positive tests.
It’s also possible that the league could return to play, but that some of its postseason-qualified teams might not. We’ve seen that in the NWSL, with the Orlando Pride withdrawing ahead of the NWSL Champions Cup, and we’re now seeing it in MLS with the withdrawal of FC Dallas from the MLS is Back tournament. So even if this agreement is approved, it’s not guaranteed that every team currently set for the NHL postseason tournament will actually take part. But the tentative CBA and return-to-play agreement is still notable news, and it’s one significant hurdle cleared in the league’s resumption plans.