The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have finalized a landmark agreement that, if ratified by both sides, would detail and regulate the return-to-play format as well as ensure labor peace through at least 2026.
Under the return-to-play agreement for 12 teams from each conference, formal training camps will open on Monday, teams will travel to two hub city quarantine bubbles — expected to be Edmonton and Toronto but not officially announced — on July 26 and the best-of-five qualifying series will begin on Aug. 1.
The Islanders, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, will face the 10th-seeded Florida Panthers and the No. 11 Rangers will meet the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes for a berth in the 16-team playoffs.
The extension to the collective bargaining agreement is for four years. The current CBA was set to expire on Sept. 15, 2022.
The NHL’s Board of Governors, the NHLPA’s executive board and then the full NHLPA membership must vote on the tentative agreement.
“The respective review and approval process will take place over the next few days and there will be no further comment until those processes are completed,” the NHL and NHLPA said in a joint statement.
Under the return-to-play/CBA agreement, unsigned draft picks such as Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin are not eligible to compete this season, but can sign an entry-level deal and have the first season counted in order to become a restricted free agent with a more lucrative contract sooner. Sorokin was a third-round selection of the Islanders in 2014 who has indicated his desire to play in North America after his KHL contract expired on April 30.
The 2019-20 season was paused on March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet amid the good news was a reminder of how uncertain things remain.
The NHL on Monday reported 23 positive test results for COVID-19 from the tests administered to the 396 players who have reported 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%).
“In addition, since June 8 [the opening of Phase 2], the League is aware of 12 additional Players who have tested positive for COVID-19 outside of the Phase 2 Protocol,” the NHL said. “All Players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and Health Canada protocols.”
The NHL said it will continue to provide regular updates on the number of tests administered to players and those test results. However, the NHL said it “will not be providing information on the identity of the Players or Clubs.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning were temporarily forced to close their practice facility for five days in June after three players and additional staff members tested positive.
The Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues reportedly canceled their practice on Friday after multiple members of the organization tested positive.
The return-to-play agreement sets the maximum number of players at training camps at 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies.
NHL rosters will be at a maximum of 31 players once each of the 24 teams travels to its respective hub city. Teams can bring a maximum of 52 people overall to the bubble. That includes three coaches, two trainers and one content creator/social media individual. Media not affiliated with the teams will not be allowed in the bubble.
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.