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NHL, players' union ratify return to play plan, CBA extension through 2026

Edmonton Oilers' home arena Rogers Place is seen

Edmonton Oilers' home arena Rogers Place is seen from the interior ahead of the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 4, 2017 in Edmonton, Canada. Credit: Getty Images/Codie McLachlan

Now all they have to do is start playing the games in three weeks.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association jointly announced on Friday that both sides have ratified the return-to-play plan/collective bargaining agreement, which paves the way for the resumption of this season and ensures labor peace through 2026.

“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. “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 priorities.”

Formal training camps will open on Monday for the 24 teams participating in the restart of play. Toronto will be the hub city for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton will be the site for the Western Conference. Each will have a quarantined arena/hotel bubble.

The NHL Board of Governors voted — reportedly unanimously — on Friday to approve the agreement. It includes a four-year extension to the CBA, which is set to expire on Sept. 15, 2022.

The NHLPA’s executive board approved the agreement earlier this week for a full vote of the NHLPA membership, which reportedly voted 502-135 in favor of ratification over three days of balloting.

“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 in a statement.

Players have until 5 p.m. Monday to opt out of participating at the hub cities.

Unsigned draft picks, such as Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin, who was taken by the Islanders in the third round in 2014, can be signed during a 53-hour window that begins at noon Monday. Those players cannot participate in games this season but can have the first season of their entry-level contract burned off.

The teams will report to their hub city on July 26, with exhibition games planned for July 28-30.

The best-of-five qualifying series will begin on Aug. 1 for the final eight spots in the 16-team postseason. Both the seventh-seeded Islanders, who are facing the 10th-seeded Panthers, and the No. 11 Rangers, who will meet the sixth-seeded Hurricanes, will open their series that day.

The top four teams in each conference based on points percentage will play a round-robin series to determine playoff positioning. Each of the four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven series.

The CBA extension was necessary for the return-to-play plan in order to reconcile the tremendous loss of revenue caused by the pandemic and with no fans in the stands for the foreseeable future. Under the current CBA, players and owners split hockey-related revenue 50-50, with players owing escrow in order to maintain the even split.

The salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million until the hockey-related revenues return to the $4.8 billion projected for this season.

Escrow taken from the players’ contracts will be capped at 20% for next season and decrease until it’s capped at 6% over the final three seasons of the agreement.

Now comes the NHL’s last hurdle: avoiding a significant COVID-19 outbreak so it can play the games.

The NHL has been regularly testing players participating in the voluntary, small-group workouts at the team facilities, which began on June 8.

This Monday, the NHL reported 23 positive test results for COVID-19 administered to the 396 players who have reported back to their team facilities for voluntary, small-group workouts.

This week’s positive rate of 5.8% is a slight improvement over last week’s initial report, when the NHL said there were 15 positive tests among 250 players (6.0%).

New York Sports