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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 6, 2020
While hockey fans enjoyed the opening weeks of summer, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) reached a tentative agreement on the final phases of their return-to-play plan.
The league is currently in Phase 2 involving voluntary small-group workouts in team facilities as players gradually return to their NHL cities. Phase 3 entails mandatory training camps in preparation for the 24-team playoff tournament under Phase 4. Players will be allowed to opt out for any reason without penalty provided they do so in writing three days after the return-to-play plan is ratified.
Training camp is slated to begin on July 13. By July 26, the 12 Eastern Conference teams will arrive in their hub city in Toronto while the 12 Western clubs will head to Edmonton.
The playoff tournament is scheduled to begin on Aug. 1 with a best-of-five 16-team qualifying round. The top-four teams in each conference will play each other to determine their final seedings. That will be followed by the usual four-round, best-of-seven series.
The second phase of the 2020 NHL draft lottery will be held on Aug. 10 to determine the winner of the first-overall pick. Because a placeholder team won the first phase of the draw, one of the eight clubs eliminated from the qualifying round will win the right to select top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.
If all goes well, a Stanley Cup champion could be crowned during the first week of October. The draft would follow later that month, with the free-agent market opening on Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, details emerged regarding potential changes to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The term would be extended to the end of the 2025-26 campaign. The salary cap would be frozen at $81.5 million until league revenue returns to $4.8 billion, after which a new formula will be used to determine the new cap limit going forward.
Because hockey-related revenue is divided 50-50 between the owners and players, the latter must pay back any shortfall via escrow deducted from their paycheques. Under the proposed agreement, escrow will be capped at 20 per cent for next season, gradually declining to six per cent for the final three seasons.
The CBA could be extended by a year if the players’ escrow debt owed to the team owners for this season exceeds $125 million by 2026. The players would also defer 10 per cent of their salaries and signing bonuses for next season but will have that money returned in equal payments during the final three seasons of the deal.
Depending on negotiations with the International Olympic Committee, the NHL will participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics and the 2026 Milan Olympics. That's a significant concession to the players, who were displeased after the league skipped the 2018 Winter Games.
The return-to-play plan and CBA extension still requires ratification by the NHL board of governors and the full NHLPA membership. If approved, it would ensure completion of this season as well as long-term labour peace.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with the Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.
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