The particulars aren’t exciting, but the agreement is. We’ve long known and heard the NHL and NHLPA was keying in on a 56 game season to start on January 13th. That’s not earth-shattering, but the important news breaking on Friday night is that the league and the players have come to a preliminary agreement to put the wheels in motion to get there.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association have reached a tentative agreement to play a 56-game regular season starting Jan. 13, 2021.https://t.co/ZSodrZHs65— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) December 19, 2020
From the league:
Games will be within realigned divisions only, including a division of the seven teams based in Canada.
The NHL and NHLPA have had to adjust to government regulations at all levels, from restrictions at the Canada-United States border to local limits on gatherings, and the coronavirus situation in each of the markets for the 31 NHL teams. The agreement includes health and safety protocols.
“The biggest challenge is making sure that our players and supporting personnel are safe and healthy and making sure that we’re not doing anything that puts the communities in which we’re playing at risk either in terms of spreading COVID or taking medical resources, whether it’s testing or vaccinations,” Commissioner Bettman said.
“We understand what is vitally important to each community and to the health and welfare of each community, and we don’t want to do anything that would interfere with that. But everything that we’re doing and working on with the Players’ Association starts with keeping the players and the communities in which we play safe and healthy.”
The two sides still have to approve the agreement, but at this point that is widely expected to happen.
As you could imagine, there’s still a ton of items to hash out:
- The NHL isn’t even sure that Canada will allow teams to play north of the border, so we will see how that goes if those teams have to relocate to America or potentially play in a bubble in Edmonton. Either way, it’s expected to be an All-Canadian division, though it’s very up in the air how it unfolds.
- Playoffs will be old school and divisional, 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs 3 and then the winners meeting. So, pretty much how it is now but no wild cards or ability to jump conference. It’ll be strictly teams playing within their division until the third round of the playoffs.
- Training camps will officially open on January 3rd, but for the seven non-playoff teams from last summer, they start on December 31st. There will be no exhibition/pre-season games. That will be a quick training camp, not unlike what we saw last July in “Phase 3” of last year’s return to play.
- We say officially, because some players are already skating in small groups at UPMC Lemieux.
- Players will be allowed to opt-out of the season if they or a family member are at a high-risk of the coronavirus. It’s unknown but believed it will be without pay and their contract will move down a year, as if it never happened. (Guessing you can count on one hand with fingers left over the amount of players that go this route, but we shall see).
All dates are subject to change or slide back but we shall see how it goes. They seem committed to make this happen, so if possible I would think they attempt to start like this if at all possible.
With the AHL not scheduled to start until February, there will be a new wrinkle for extra players:
#NHL/#NHLPA Agreement: 23-man roster with $81.5 million salary cap.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 19, 2020
This includes creation of 4-6 man taxi squad. All 29 players (max) will travel and practice with NHL team. Taxi squad is paid full AHL salary. CBA has been expanded to include for more flexible emergency recalls
For Pittsburgh, you would probably expect a taxi squad of veteran AAAA type-players like Zach Trotman, Kevin Czuczman, Frederick Gaudreau and Josh Currie would be involved, but there could be room for younger players too. Ideally none of them would be needed, but the Penguins and ideal injury situations don’t usually go hand in hand.
All in all, today was a necessary but still important step to start getting the wheels in motion about finalizing an agreement and moving on to the next steps. The NHL season could be less than a month away!