By Henry Aldridge
The National Hockey League and players have reached a tentative deal to hold a 56-game season in 2021 beginning Jan. 13, pending the approval of each side’s executive board and Canadian health officials.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the sides have an agreement, pending the approval of various executive boards.
Players on the NHL Players’ Association’s executive board call last night supported moving forward with the agreed-upon terms, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press.
The league’s board of governors could vote on the plan as soon as this weekend. Approval from health officials in the five Canadian provinces that have teams is still needed before the NHL can go ahead with the season.
Training camps for the seven teams that did not participate in last season’s playoff bubbles would open Dec. 31, and camps would commence Jan. 3 for the other 24 teams. It’s unclear whether teams would play in their home arenas or in “hub” cities, though an all-divisional schedule is expected.
Exhibition games aren’t expected to be included in the lead-up to the new campaign. Sportsnet in Canada first reported the tentative agreement.
The NHL, like the NBA, finished its previous season in a quarantined bubble — the league set up two of them, one each in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. Commissioner Gary Bettman awarded the Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning in late September in Edmonton, after they defeated the Dallas Stars. The league ran a qualifying round in those cities before the Eastern and Western conference playoffs began.
Owners and players agreed to a long-term extension of the collective bargaining agreement before the 2019-20 season resumed, setting the table for financial ramifications of the pandemic. They agreed recently to stick to that deal, which includes players deferring 10% of salaries, a cap on money they pay into escrow and a flat, $81.5 million salary cap.
The NHL follows the NBA in moving toward another regular season. The basketball season is scheduled to open Tuesday.
One remaining hurdle is where the seven Canada-based teams will play. The original plan was to put them in the same division, though tougher pandemic restrictions north of the border put that into limbo this week.
“The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada’s measures to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19,” the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement Thursday night. “NHL teams and other professional sports must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events.”
Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays played last season in Buffalo, New York, and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors have relocated to Tampa, Florida, because of government prohibitions. The NHL so far has one American team that might need a new home: the San Jose Sharks, who play in California’s Santa Clara County, where a temporary ban on professional and collegiate team sports has affected the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.