While consensus on the last details of the return-to-play agreement between the NHL and its players’ union has yet to be reached, a report Friday suggested that dates for the resumption of the 2019-20 season have been set, with the opening of training camps for the 24 returning teams scheduled for July 13 and games resuming Aug. 1.
In a string of tweets Friday morning, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides are “believed to be close’’ but an agreement was “still not done.’’ He suggested that a tentative agreement could be reached Friday but that talks could extend into the weekend.
Once agreement is reached, the deal will have to be approved by the owners and players. If the deal is agreed to this weekend, it could be put to all the players for a vote early next week, with a simple majority needed to approve it.
The NHL had announced that Phase 3 of the return-to-play plan — training camps — would begin no sooner than July 10. But for the last few weeks, many had speculated that date could be pushed back to July 13.
According to McKenzie, teams will report to the two hub cities — reportedly Edmonton and Toronto — on July 26. It’s believed that once there, teams will play a “preseason’’ game or two before the games are resumed.
Under the league plan, the Islanders and Rangers will go to Toronto along with 10 other Eastern Conference teams. Both teams will take part in a best-of-five play-in series to advance to the 16-team playoffs, with the seventh-seeded Islanders facing the 10th-seeded Panthers and the 11th-seeded Rangers facing the sixth-seeded Hurricanes.
According to McKenzie, the second phase of the NHL’s draft lottery will take place after the play-in round is finished, somewhere around Aug. 10-12. In the first phase of the lottery, it was determined that one of the eight play-in losers will pick first in the NHL Draft, meaning if the Rangers or Islanders lose in the play-in round, they will have a 12.5% chance of landing the No. 1 pick.
Since June 8, the NHL has been in Phase 2 of its return plan, with team facilities open to players — on a voluntary basis — for workouts, treatment and skating. Two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning shut down their facility after three players and some staff tested positive for COVID-19. This week, the league announced that 15 players working out at team facilities and another 11 working out outside of team facilities had tested positive for the virus since June 8.
With training camps set to open in little more than a week, more and more players have been showing up at team facilities, especially with players coming in from certain outside areas possibly facing a mandatory self-quarantine period.
All of the Rangers who spent the NHL pause in Europe have been coming back to New York in the last two weeks. All of the team’s European players are in New York now, and, assuming all test negative for COVID-19, they should be ready to go July 13. The final group — Swedes Henrik Lundqvist, Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast, Czechs Filip Chytil and Libor Hajek and Finnish rookie Kaapo Kakko — arrived late Thursday.
Rangers forward Artemi Panarin caused a mild stir when he said on social media a week ago that NHL players should not report to training camp unless the NHL and NHLPA are able to “fix the escrow,’’ referring to the percentage of players’ salaries that is withheld from their paychecks until after the season is over in order to ensure that players don’t end up getting more than the 50% of the league’s hockey-related revenue to which they are entitled. But no other players backed up his sentiments on social media.