Drop the puck in mid-January? The National Hockey League is well on the way to making that happen.
The NHL and players reached a tentative deal Friday to hold a 56-game season that would begin Jan. 13. The NHLPA executive board gave the agreement a green light to proceed, but players and owners must hold formal votes and Canadian health officials give their approval before it becomes reality.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the sides have an agreement, pending the approval of various executive committees.
Players on the NHLPA’s executive board call Friday night supported moving forward with the agreed upon terms, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because players had yet to officially approve the agreement.
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 non-playoff teams would open Dec. 31 and then 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 leadup to the new season. Sportsnet in Canada first reported the tentative agreement.
The NHL, like the NBA, finished its previous season in a quarantined bubble — 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.
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 cap.
The NHL follows the NBA in moving toward another regular season. The basketball season opens Tuesday.
One hurdle remaining 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 may need a new home: the San Jose Sharks, who play in California's Santa Clara County with a temporary ban on professional and collegiate team sports that forced the NFL's San Francisco 49ers to shift to Arizona.
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