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NHL, NHL Players' Association agree to tentative return-to-play plan, CBA extension

NHL, NHL Players' Association agree to tentative return-to-play plan, CBA extension

The NHL and NHL Players' Association came to a tentative agreement on a Return to Play plan and added four years to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on Monday evening.

Players will report to their team facilities by July 13 for training camps as the league attempts to return from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Twenty four teams will travel to the two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, on July 26 for round-robin games, qualifying playoff games and the full 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The memorandum of understanding still must be approved by the full NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board and full membership. That process will take place this week with no formal date set for ratification by all parties. 

That brings the NHL a huge step closer to its long-awaited return to the ice. There are still hurdles between now and then, however.

MLS was set to begin play this week on its own before FC Dallas had to withdraw from the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando when 10 players and a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The NHL shut down on March 12 and entered the day with 35 players testing positive for the novel coronavirus since June 8.

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There is still a long way to go before the Capitals arrive in Toronto to play round-robin games against the Flyers, Bruins and Lightning. Those games and the qualifying round for now are set to start Aug. 1. 

That’s the big news for this season. There was more news for the future, though. The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire after the 2021-22 season. 

Now, it will continue through 2025-26. NHL players will return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 (Beijing) and 2026 (Milan) - as long as the league and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can agree on terms. That’s always a giant question mark, but at least there’s hope there. Players were furious at having to miss the 2018 games in South Korea after the IIHF and the NHL failed to agree. 

It could still be a week before NHL players can approve the deal and the coronavirus has proved for months it can wreck anything at any time. But for now, hockey is on track to return next month. 

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New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

Just a few days ago, the New York Rangers were competing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, they are the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

New York landed the first pick during Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on Monday, as they were the lucky team to have their ping pong ball sitting at the top of the order. 

The league switched it up this season, as teams that fell in the qualifying round of the NHL restart were all eligible for the first pick. This was decided during Phase 1 of the NHL Draft Lottery when "Team E" ended up in the top spot. Here's how the draft shakes out now, before other teams are added after playoff results:

  1. New York Rangers
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Ottawa Senators
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Minnesota Wild
  10. Winnipeg Jets
  11. Nashville Predators
  12. Florida Panthers
  13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto)
  14. Edmonton Oilers
  15. Pittsburgh Penguins (optional to Minnesota)

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There was an interesting moment leading up to the selection, as the ball with the Rangers logo was dropped prematurely before commissioner Gary Bettman was able to confirm that it was the correct ping pong ball. Twitter immediately went into conspiracy mode, given that the Rangers had the second pick last year, but the fact of the matter is New York is now on the clock.

For the Rangers, that most likely means the addition of Alexis Lafrenière, an 18-year-old Canadien winger who is considered to be the bell of this year's ball. While Lafrenière is certainly talented, he's not yet viewed as a franchise-altering selection such as Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

Still, there is reason for excitement in New York. A team that contended for a playoff spot in 2020 will now add another important piece for next season. 2019 first-round pick Kaapo Kakko, who struggled at times during his rookie season, is another talented scorer that carries lofty expectations. On paper, the future is bright for the Rangers.

However, dominating the lottery doesn't guarantee instant success. Dating back to 2015 when phenom Connor McDavid was selected by the Edmonton Oilers, the owner of the No. 1 pick has only made it past the first round of the playoffs once. That includes the New Jersey Devils, who have picked first overall in two of the last three years.

In terms of how this impacts the Capitals, it does potentially make Washington's matchups with the Rangers more challenging in the future. It's never ideal to see a division foe pick up another talented individual. Yet, the Rangers winning the lottery means the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were eligible, did not. That's always good news for the Capitals.

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Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

The Capitals may be without forward Lars Eller in Wednesday's Game 1 against the New York Islanders even if he is cleared by the NHL in time to play. That was the thought of head coach Todd Reirden on Monday who expressed he would have to make a decision to avoid any possible injury that could keep him out longer.

Eller left the bubble in Toronto for the birth of his second child. He is now back in Toronto under quarantine in his room and cannot leave until he tests negative four times over a four-day period, per NHL protocols. It is unclear when Eller took his first test. If it was Monday, he will not be ready in time for Wednesday's game. If it was on Sunday, there's a chance he could be cleared to play by Wednesday.

"The NHL will be the ones that decide that, have the overall final call on it," Reirden said.

But even if Eller just manages to clear before the 3 p.m. game time on Wednesday, there's a chance he still may not play.

While under quarantine, Eller is not allowed to leave his hotel room at all.

"He’s not allowed to leave his hotel room, so he hasn’t been doing any exercise outside of his room and until we’re told differently that will be how it is," Reirden said.

That could be a problem.

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Eller first left the bubble on Aug. 5. By Wednesday, he will have gone a week without being on the ice or being able to exercise, beyond whatever he can do in his room. Typically in these situations, players get a practice in before getting back into the game lineup and Reirden made it clear on Monday that he may have to consider sitting Eller for Game 1 to prevent any sort of injury after missing a week.

“I think it’s something you have to consider is the player hasn’t been on the ice," Reirden said. "He obviously plays a huge role on our team and if you remember a few years ago the success and kind of the X factor that he was for our team when we won against Vegas. So I think it’s important that we handle this situation and make the proper the decision to give this player the best chance to be able to, if it’s not Game 1, then he’s ready to go for Game 2 and he’s as close to healthy in terms of conditioning-wise, he’s ready to go on the ice and be able to add the things he can add and do it safely so that we can have him for an extended time here in this playoffs because he is definitely a big factor in our team success.”

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If Eller is out, Travis Boyd will likely play in his place. Boyd centered the third line in Eller's absence in the last two round robin games.

Luckily, that is the only real question mark down the middle for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed a practice last week but played against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, said Monday that he had "no concerns" in terms of his status heading into the playoffs.

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