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NHL, players reach tentative deal to start the season in 2021

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman prepares for the first

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman prepares for the first round of the 2020 Draft at the NHL Network Studio on Oct. 6 in Secaucus, N.J. Credit: TNS/Mike Stobe

An NHL return-to-play plan for a truncated 2020-21 season beginning on Jan. 13 was tentatively agreed upon by the league and the NHL Players’ Association on Friday night.

Now, both sides boards must vote to approve the plan.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the sides have agreed to a 56-game regular season preceded by a 10-day training camp that does not include preseason games. The Devils, Kings, Ducks, Sabres, Sharks, Red Wings and Senators — the seven teams that did not qualify for the August-September postseason after the COVID-19 pandemic halted the regular season on March 12 — will be able to open their camps on Dec. 30.

The NHLPA executive board, comprised of the 31 team representatives, met via teleconference to vote on the proposal on Friday night. The NHL Board of Governors had yet to schedule their vote but that is expected to happen by the end of this weekend.

The tentative agreement confirms the flat, $81.5 million salary cap and calls for a 23-man roster with the addition of a maximum six-player taxi squad, which would travel with the team.

Players will be able to opt out of the season.

The plan is to divide the league into four, geographically-based divisions — with the season limited to divisional play — in order to limit travel. One of those divisions is supposed to be the seven Canadian teams to account for the U.S.-Canada border restrictions.

However, that is perhaps the most tentative aspect of the plan.

Some or all of the Canadian provincial health authorities may not approve the NHL hosting games in those cities.

If not, the NHL will have to consider either having the seven Canadian teams play in one hub city — the postseason was conducted in sequestered bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton — or potentially find temporary U.S. homes for those franchises.

Neither is considered a desired option and would force the NHL and NHLPA to re-adjust the planned, temporary re-alignment.

Tentatively, the Islanders and Rangers have been placed in a division with the Devils, Flyers, Bruins, Sabres, Penguins and Capitals.

A major financial hurdle was cleared earlier this month when the league and the NHLPA agreed to play under the economic guidelines set in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in July. In November, the NHL had sought increased salary deferrals and escrow charges from the players.

Some owners had been reluctant to start the season given the huge economic losses of playing in empty arenas. NHL revenue is heavily gate driven and Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said in October many teams would not be financially viable without fans in the buildings. He added "40 or 50% attendance" was needed.

New York Sports