07/10 23:16 CDT NHL, players approve plan to resume season, extend CBA
NHL, players approve plan to resume season, extend CBA
By STEPHEN WHYNO and JOHN WAWROW
AP Hockey Writers
Hockey became the latest sport to finalize a return during a global pandemic
after NHL owners and players approved an agreement Friday to resume the season
--- and with it an assurance of labor peace through September 2026.
Games are scheduled to begin Aug. 1 in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, with
coronavirus cases in the U.S. pushing the league into Canada for the summer and
fall until the Stanley Cup is awarded in late September or early October.
Training camps open across North America on Monday, which is also the deadline
for players to opt out of participating with no penalty. Minnesota's Zach
Parise said earlier this week he doesn't think a lot of players will choose not
to play, but the NHL already has one example.
Hours after the agreement was reached, Calgary defenseman Travis Hamonic became
the first to publicly opt out, citing family reasons. Hamonic's daughter was
hospitalized last year with a respiratory illness
"I wish I could lace up my skates and be out there battling, blocking a shot
and helping my team win, but my family has and always will come first," Hamonic
said. "Being my little kids' dad every day is the most important job I have."
Flames general manager Brad Treliving said, "While we will miss Travis in our
lineup, we understand and respect his decision."
The return-to-play plan, tentatively approved by the NHL and NHL Players'
Association on Monday, was ratified by the league's board of governors and with
majority approval from players following a three-day voting period, ending
Friday. Along with it, the two sides also formally approved a four-year
extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
"This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and
for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time," NHLPA executive director Don
Fehr said. "We are pleased to be able to bring NHL hockey back to the fans."
The NHL is back with an expanded 24-team playoff format, but things will be
much different from the norm: There will be no fans. There will be between five
and six games a day at the start --- up to three at each site, which will be
heavily cordoned off from the public.
And for the first time in league history, there will be an unusual final four
in Edmonton to settle a championship later than ever before with ramifications
pushing back the start of next season to December or even as late as January.
Still, hockey is preparing to go on in a year that has upended life for
millions, and sports along with it. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been
awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn't be completed because of the Spanish
flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.
"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,"
Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "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."
Even so, the NHL is being cautious in its return with Toronto and Edmonton to
serve as hub cities through the qualifying and first two rounds of the
playoffs. The 12 Eastern Conference teams will play in Toronto and the 12 West
teams in Edmonton, with home-rink advantages for the Maple Leafs and Oilers
conceded in a nod to television preferences.
The top four teams in each conference --- Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and
Philadelphia in the East, and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West
--- automatically advance to the field of 16 and will play separate round-robin
tournaments to determine seeding.
The best-of-five qualifying round series in the East are No. 5 Pittsburgh vs.
No. 12 Montreal, No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 7 New York
Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida and No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus and in the
West No. 5 Edmonton vs. No. 12 Chicago, No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona, No.
7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota and No. 8 Calgary vs. No. 9 Winnipeg.
Action will begin with five games on Aug. 1, starting with Hurricanes-Rangers,
Islanders-Panthers and Penguins-Canadiens in Toronto, and Oilers-Blackhawks and
Flames-Jets in Edmonton.
The preliminary round will feature 52 games played through the first nine days
before teams will get a break on Aug. 10, when the NHL will hold the second
phase of its draft lottery. Each of the eight eliminated teams will have an
equal chance of winning the No. 1 pick, after the first phase of the draft
lottery left the choice undetermined.
The first round of the playoffs will then begin at each of the two hub cities
on Aug. 11. Teams will be re-seeded every round, and the remainder of the
playoffs will all be best-of-seven series.
The NHL draft has been tentatively set for Oct. 9 and 10 and likely be held by
phone rather than in a traditional arena setting.
Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group
workouts since June 8. The league has reported 35 players testing positive
since that point, though the hope is that number will hit zero once teams are
scheduled to travel to their respective hubs on July 26.
With personnel limits --- each team's travel parties are limited to 52 people,
with rosters capped at 31 players --- quarantining restrictions and daily tests
for players, coaches, management, plus arena, hotel and restaurant staff, the
NHL will try to complete a season that was shut down March 12 with 189 games
and the playoffs remaining.
Teams will be quarantined from families and the general public during play at
least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds.
Getting back on the ice also comes with labor peace through at least 2026.
The CBA extension includes an agreement to send players to Olympics in 2022 and
2026 --- pending an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and
International Ice Hockey Federation --- and includes some salary deferrals that
allow both sides to bear the brunt of losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and
share in the benefits of an upcoming U.S. TV rights contract.
"All we know is we will be playing hockey, there will be labor peace so long as
this thing gets ratified for another four years, six years maybe," Carolina
veteran Justin Williams said. "That's good for the fan, that's good for the TV
audience, that's good for the players, it's good for everybody. So we're
obviously excited about that. It's awesome that they were able to do this. I
don't think a normal CBA negotiation goes this quickly. But both parties wanted
it done and they got it done."
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell and Aaron Beard contributed to this report.
For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and