The NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) ratified the NHL's return to play plan and a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement on Friday and, as a result, hockey will finally return on Aug. 1. Four qualifying round games will be played on Aug. 1 with the round-robin beginning on Aug. 2. The Capitals'' first game will be Aug. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Today, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a significant agreement that addresses the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, the framework for the completion of the 2019-20 season and the foundation for the continued long-term growth of our League,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “I thank NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr and Special Assistant to the Executive Director Mathieu Schneider, the more than 700 NHL Players – particularly those who worked on our Return to Play Committee – and the NHL’s Board of Governors for coming together under extraordinary circumstances for the good of our game. While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities. We know that all of our fans are excited about our return to the ice next month and that has been our goal since we paused our season on March 12.”
Teams are scheduled to begin Phase 3, training camps, on Monday and travel to the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton on July 26. Exhibition games will take place from July 28-30 before play finally resumes on Aug. 1. If there are no disruptions to the season, the first round -- after the round-robin and qualifying round -- will begin Aug. 11. The postseason will stretch into September and possibly October with the last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final scheduled for Oct. 4.
The league paused the regular season on March 12. After the pause stretched from days to weeks to months, it became clear that finishing the remainder of the regular season was not practical and a 24-team postseason format was created for 2020. That was announced several weeks ago. The safety protocols for the "bubble" that teams will have to play in due to the coronavirus pandemic took much longer to finalize.
The pandemic necessitates holding the 2020 postseason without fans, but the lost revenue from the playoffs, the remainder of the regular season and the impact on next season necessitated a restructuring of the current CBA. That is why a CBA extension became linked to the return to play plan. While having to negotiate a new CBA as well as safety protocols no doubt prolonged the process, the way the league and NHLPA were able to come to an agreement with almost no animosity is a boon for the sport and a remarkable reversal from the previous labor talks, all of which have led to work stoppages while Bettman has been the league commissioner. The NHL and NHLPA should be applauded for their efforts, especially when compared to the highly contentious fight that played out in Major League Baseball which should have been the easiest of the four major sports to resume play.
“This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time," Bettman said. "This would not have happened but for the enormous contributions that the players made throughout, particularly those who served on the Negotiating and Return to Play Committees, as well as those on the Executive Board,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “I also thank Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the NHL staff for their efforts towards finding solutions to the problems we face. Most importantly, we are pleased to be able to bring NHL hockey back to the fans. We look forward to the NHL’s continued growth here in North America and on the world stage.”
With the agreement ratified, players now will have the option to opt out of the postseason and have until 5 p.m. on Monday to inform their teams if they plan to do so.
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