All that seemingly remains before 24 teams report to either Toronto or Edmonton for the resumption of the NHL season is ratification votes by both the league’s board of governors and the NHL Players’ Association.
That and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid any major outbreaks that could scuttle the NHL’s return-to-play plans.
Multiple reports on Wednesday, with lead reporting by TSN, indicated the sides had finalized almost all the details in both the return-to-play format and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension, with ratification voting hopefully being concluded by this weekend.
With coronavirus cases on the rise across most of the United States, including in Nevada, Edmonton and Toronto reportedly will be selected as the hub cities where 12 teams from each conference will quarantine. Las Vegas had long been considered almost a slam-dunk contender among the original 10 candidate cities to host games.
As part of the CBA extension agreement, NHL players are expected to participate in both the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics. It would mark the NHL’s first Olympic participation since Team Canada won gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
It appears the NHL will not allow teams to offer contracts that would make unsigned draft choices eligible for the remainder of this season, so Russian goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin likely won't be joining the Islanders for the restart.
It’s believed the Eastern Conference, including the Islanders and Rangers, will be assigned to Toronto. The seventh-seeded Islanders will face the 10th-seeded Panthers, while the No. 11 Rangers will meet the sixth-seeded Hurricanes in best-of-five qualifying series for a berth in the 16-team playoffs.
The top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin series to determine playoff seeding. All four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven series, and the teams will be reseeded for the conference semifinals and finals.
Formal training camps are expected to open on July 13. As a result, the negotiations, which continued into Tuesday night, had an against-the-clock component to them.
The two sides needed to agree to extend the player contracts that were set to expire on Tuesday in order for the impending unrestricted and restricted free agents to be able to play in any resumption of the season.
Signing bonuses due Wednesday on 2020-21 contracts will be paid out. The Islanders owe just under $11 million to players throughout the organization and the Rangers owe approximately $35 million, according to CapFriendly.com.
A CBA extension was needed to reconcile the massive loss of revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic within a salary-cap framework and a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue between the owners and players. The season was paused on March 12 with 189 total regular-season games remaining.
The players owe the owners hundreds of millions of dollars in escrow payments to satisfy the 50-50 agreement under the current CBA, which was set to expire on Sept. 15, 2022.
It will mark the first time under NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch that the sides have avoided a work stoppage. Owners’ lockouts reduced the 1994-95 and 2012-13 seasons to 48 games and completely wiped out the 2004-05 season.
Sorokin, who turns 25 on Aug. 4, was a third-round pick in 2014, and Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov once called him the best netminder not in the NHL. Sorokin indicated his desire to come to North America after his KHL contract expired on April 30 but has yet to sign an entry-level deal.
No doubt, both his representation and Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello were waiting to see whether he’d be eligible for this season and, as a result, have one season burned off his entry-level contract so he could re-sign a more lucrative restricted free-agent deal.
Even if that is the case, it’s debatable whether Sorokin will want to wait until possibly December or January — if that’s when the next NHL season can start — to play again or if he’ll just decide to return to the KHL and likely play sooner.