From Comcast SportsNetThe NHL appears headed toward a 48-game season for the second time in two decades."I think 48 is most likely at this point, unless the players can expedite their ratification process," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email Monday to The Associated Press.The NHL shortened its 82-game slate to 48 games for the 1994-95 season after a 103-day lockout. A 301-day lockout in 2004-05 made the NHL the first major North American professional sports league to lose an entire season.When the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement was agreed to Sunday morning -- after 16 hours of negotiations -- there was some talk of having a 50-game season start later this month.The NHL and the players' association are working on a memorandum of understanding, which could be completed soon, then voted on by owners and players. The league has circulated a memo to teams telling them to be ready to play by Jan. 19, the date the shortened season is expected to start."As we prepare for the season opener, I want to apologize to all Blues fans, especially our season ticket holders, suite holders, and sponsors," St. Louis Blues owner Tom Stillman said in a statement released by the team. "We share in your disappointment and frustration about the lockout."Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, who was part of the union negotiating team for much of the long work stoppage, expects the NHLPA to conduct a conference call to explain and answer questions about the new CBA before players vote on it online."Of course the league will say if the players hurry up, we can play more games, but there's a reality to consider as well," Westgarth said in a telephone interview Monday from Raleigh, N.C., where he skated informally with some Carolina Hurricanes. "But the first step is for the people who are good with words to get on paper what both sides agreed to."Then, we have to get guys -- who are scattered all over the world -- to understand the agreement before we can start voting."Some NHL players -- including Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin -- went overseas during the lockout. Ovechkin, who played for his hometown Dynamo Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League, was welcomed back to Washington by the Capitals, who posted a picture of him on their Twitter account arriving at a local airport.Players -- teammates and opponents -- who stayed in North America have been getting together for months to skate, conduct on-ice drills and work out on their own to stay in relatively good shape.Penguins star Sidney Crosby and nearly a dozen teammates worked out at a suburban Pittsburgh ice rink Monday.For a change, Crosby and the rest of the NHL players knew games will be played after negotiators for both sides -- and an outside mediator -- found a way to revive a sport desperate to regain momentum and boost its prominence.The league and the union agreed to the framework of a 10-year labor contract, ending a bitter dispute that wiped out a large part of the hockey season for the third time in less than two decades. On the 113th day of the lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. Sunday news conference to announce there would be a season after all.The lockout could wipe out perhaps 1 billion in revenue this season because about 40 percent of the regular-season schedule won't be played.The NHL's revenue of 3.3 billion last season lagged well behind the NFL (9 billion), Major League Baseball (7.5 billion) and the NBA (5 billion). The new deal will lower the players' percentage from 57 to 50 after owners originally had proposed the players get 46 percent.This was the third lockout among the major U.S. sports in a period of just over a year. A four-month NFL lockout ended in July 2011 with the loss of only one exhibition game, and an NBA lockout caused each team's schedule to be cut from 82 games to 66 last season.
As it stands right now, the NBA appears well on track to begin its 22-team season restart on July 30 in Orlando.
The question, though, is if it will finish what it starts.
On the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh explained the array of apprehensions that come with the experiment the league is about to embark on. From the health and safety issues that come with a still-raging pandemic, to the mental health concerns facing a player population under relative isolation, and more, pulling this bubble off would be a grand logistical feat by the NBA.
So, what odds did Haberstroh give the season ending as currently planned, and with a champion crowned? 50-50. A coin flip.
“I know that’s a cop-out,” Haberstroh said, “but I think it’s about a 90 percent chance we see a tip-off on July 30, and I think it’s going to be less so at the end of the playoffs. Because I think, we don’t know how this coronavirus is going to react to this bubble, we don’t know how disciplined the players will be in respect to staying in the bubble and respecting the social distancing rules and the mask rules.
“Everything looks good on paper. The 113-page protocol the NBA gave out was very thorough, an epidemiologist that I talked to said that it was a really solid plan. Of course, as Adam Silver says, it’s not risk-free. There’s risk in this bubble, and I think, when I mentioned the 50/50 proposition to an executive two days ago, he responded, ‘I don’t think that’s pessimistic enough.’ And I thought I was on the wrong side of that — I thought, I was like ‘Is that too pessimistic here, 50/50?’ And he assured me that there is concern around the league about — not Week 1, I don’t think it’s the first month in the bubble that teams worry about. I think it’s just as the bubble continues, Month 2, Month 3, is that people let their guard down and slowly just get a little bit too comfortable with the surroundings, and that’s what you have to guard against.”
The NBA released the latest results from its mandatory “Phase 2” testing on Thursday, reporting that 25 of 351 (7.1%) players tested since June 23 were positive for COVID-19, along with 10 of 884 (1.1%) team staffers.
“Phase 2” of the league’s restart plan saw the 22 invited teams return to their home markets (the one exception being the Toronto Raptors, who traveled straight to Orlando) for restricted workouts at team facilities. An influx of positives under those circumstances was to be expected. In fact, the Nuggets, Clippers and Nets all recently reportedly shuttered their facilities on a temporary basis after positive tests in their respective organizations — though the Nets have since reopened theirs, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The hope for the league is that the invited teams can enter Orlando as infection-free as possible, and from there, daily testing, symptom monitoring, contact tracing, and targeted sanitation and social guidelines can mitigate potential infection, spread, or, worse yet, outbreak.
But there are concerns on that front, as well, starting with the testing protocols surrounding the Disney employees that will staff the bubble.
“The biggest worry, to me, is the Disney staffers who are not being quarantined, who are not being tested day-to-day,” Haberstroh said. “Adam Silver on a recent call with reporters said that they are trying to find a subset, or negotiate with Disney, a subset of their Disney staffers who are coming from homes or an environment where there’s as high as 15% positive tests in Orange County, Fla., they’re trying to figure out a way to test those individuals before they come into the bubble. Right now they are not being tested.”
Should the league keep its players sufficiently insulated from said staffers, perhaps that won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But given the unpredictability of the virus, and the unpredictability of individual human behavior, it’s impossible to yet know exactly how the bubble experiment will play out. How many positive tests will there be in the bubble? How many positives would warrant another season shutdown? Will positive tests on different teams be treated differently based on specific risk factors — e.g. age of coach? For that matter, will older coaches be allowed to walk the sidelines? Will we even see quality basketball? Could players be at higher injury risk after a months-long hiatus? Will anyone break the bubble? Is this all even worth it?
As Haberstroh noted Silver saying, there’s no risk-free option for resuming a contact sport during a global pandemic, especially considering all the variables the NBA brings with it. The above questions are nebulous for now. But answers may soon rear their head.
Listen to the rest of the conversation, in which Haberstroh and Co. discuss the NBA's restart, Zion Williamson's return to action and the state of the Bulls' rebuild, here or via the embedded player above.
Bulls Talk Podcast
The first game in the NBA Bubble in Orlando is scheduled for July 30 for the resumption of the 2019-2020 NBA season.
Kevin Anderson and Rob Schaefer are joined by NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh to discuss the details of the bubble and if the top four seeds should select their opponent in the playoffs. Later, Tom shares his thoughts on the Bulls' front office changes.
(1:14) - Will the NBA finish the rest of the season?
(9:11) - How concerned is the NBA with the mental health of the players in the bubble?
(17:35) - This will be the hardest championship ever won
(30:18) - Should the top four seeds be able to select their playoff opponent?
(43:35) - What does the rest of the NBA think of the Bulls' front office changes?
Listen here or below.
Bulls Talk Podcast