NHL to be back in rink on August 1


NHL will resume season update July 2020 Image: Rogers Place

The National Hockey League (NHL) season will resume on August 1 with a 24-team Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) have tentatively agreed on the plan and on a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) extension that could reportedly include an Olympic break for Beijing 2022 and Milan 2026.

The National Hockey League (NHL) is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: 24 in the United States and seven in Canada. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is the basic contract between the National Hockey League (NHL) (31 team owners and NHL Commissioner) and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA), designed to be arrived at through the typical labor-management negotiations of collective bargaining.

The Stanley Cup is the championship trophy awarded annually to the National Hockey League playoff winner.

A tentative agreement have been entered into by the NHL and the NHLPA on a Return to Play Plan and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that adds an additional four years to the term of the current CBA and includes transition rules and a new critical dates calendar. The NHL had paused its season on March 12 this year.

The following dates have been fixed as part of the provisional agreement:

  • July 13 – Start of formal training camps;
  • July 26 – Clubs travel to hub cities; and
  • August 1 – Start of Qualifying Round.

Though the hub cities have not been officially announced as yet but media reports indicated that the Stanley Cup Playoffs could be played in Edmonton, Canada (Western Conference) and Toronto, also in Canada (Eastern Conference) without spectators. If everything goes on course, the Stanley Cup Champion 2020 could be crowned in the first week of October.

The tentative agreement is, however, subject to nod by the NHL’s Board of Governors, as well as the NHLPA’s Executive Board followed by the full NHLPA membership. The respective review and approval processes will take place over the next few days so that the training camps could open next Monday. Those would start with up to 30 skaters per team and no limits to the numbers of goaltenders.

Extensive COVID-19 testing will be carried out for each team with daily test for players and personnel.

During Phase 2 (voluntary training at the clubs’ facilities in small groups), 396 players had reported to their clubs and 2,900 COVID-19 tests were conducted. Twenty-three players tested positive and have been self-isolated apart from 12 additional players who were tested positive outside of the NHL’s Phase 2 protocol.

Once the training camps starts, the teams will travel to the hub cities and will be lodged in secure zones. In the secure zones, a maximum of 52 persons will be allowed for each club including a maximum of 31 players, as well as coaches, team staff, other personnel and club owners and executives.

The format is the same as announced in May: The top four teams of each Conference are directly qualified for the Conference Quarter-Finals and play a round robin for the seeding. The teams ranked 5-12 will play a qualifying round in the best-of-five format. After that the series will switch to a best-of-seven format. The first rounds will be played in each hub city while the Conference Finals with the last four teams and the Stanley Cup Finals will be played in one hub city.

As far as the seeding is concerned, the NHL will not use classic playoff brackets but teams will be reseeded after each round akin to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ice Hockey World Championship with the highest remaining seed in each Conference to face the lowest remaining seed, the second-highest remaining seed in each Conference will face the second-lowest remaining seed, etc.

Teams will report to their own facilities for training camps for a couple of weeks before traveling to one of the two hub cities. The Western Conference will report to Edmonton, Alberta. Eastern Conference teams will make the trip to Toronto, Ontario. Las Vegas was long being considered as a hub city, but with COVID-19 cases on the rise in the United States and the dreaded disease continuing to batter the country, the NHL has been forced to reconsider Las Vegas as a location.

The top four teams in both Conferences, based on points percentage, will automatically receive playoff bids and play a round robin tournament to determine seeding. In the East, that’s the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers. In the West, that’s the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars. The overtime format for those games will be the same as in the regular season with five minutes of three-on-three play followed by a shootout.

The other eight teams from each conference will be matched up — based on points percentage — for best-of-five series with the winners earning playoff bids. The overtime format for those games will be the continuous overtime that the NHL already uses in the playoffs.

Beyond 2020

The NHL and the NHLPA have not only discussed about the resumption of the season but also about extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they will now vote on.

No details are available as regards the CBA extension until September 2026 but it will “enable planning for an international calendar and events”.

Unconfirmed media reports stated that it could enable NHL players to return to take part in the Olympic Winter Games.

The NHL made Olympic breaks for the Winter Olympics between 1998 and 2014 after long discussions with the IIHF in the ‘90s to allow for best-on-best ice hockey tournament at the biggest platform for winter sports but players were deprived from a participation in PyeongChang (South Korea) 2018 and many top guns have been voicing for a return.

A clear picture will emerge in the coming days and if an Olympic participation will become part of the CBA, the NHL will sit for further negotiations to thrash out the details with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The next Olympic Winter Games are scheduled to be held in Beijing (China) in 2022 and at Milan (Italy) in 2026.

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