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Thread: NHL closes in on two options to resume season

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    NHL closes in on two options to resume season

    NHL closes in on two options to resume season

    The NHL has reportedly closed in on two possible plans to resume the season and, according to reports, the timing of when the league will be able to safely do so will determine which plan officials will execute.

    The season was suspended on March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining but after two months, the NHL will likely have to make a decision soon in order to keep the 2020-21 season intact.

    Although there is no timetable, officials have narrowed the possible plans down to two, Newsday reported Saturday, citing sources.

    The first option includes 24 teams, with the top four playing for playoff seeding while the remaining teams have postseason play-in games.

    The second scenario goes straight to a 16-team playoff with no regular-season games played.

    “I think, as of now, every option we have considered remains on the table,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Newsday. “Obviously, some may be being explored more extensively than others. But no decisions have been made.”

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    The NHL is still more than a week away from determining a return-to-play format, a person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

    And what that plan resembles could be complicated further should the U.S. and Canada extend border restrictions to non-essential travel into July, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are private.

    The person spoke after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced border restrictions will stay in effect through June 21. This marks the second time the restrictions have been extended since first being put into place March 18 because of the new coronavirus pandemic.

    “I am hopeful that today’s announcement will not have a material impact on our return to play discussions and timeline," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email.

    Though the NHL has left open the possibility of having training camps open as late as early August, it was unclear what effect further border restrictions will have on a league with seven of its 31 teams based in Canada.

    There’s also a question of how travel restrictions will affect players, many of whom have returned to their offseason homes — including about 17% of players currently self-isolating overseas.

    In a separate development, the NHLPA’s executive board voted to defer the final payment of players’ regular season salaries through the end of May. Players were owed their final checks on April 15, before voting to defer those payments for a month.

    The decision provides temporary relief to the NHL’s bottom line, opening the possibility of players foregoing some or the entire remainder of their final checks. The players stand to lose all or a portion of what they are owed under the collective bargaining agreement.

    Players and owners split hockey-related revenue on a 50-50 basis, with a percentage of players’ salaries placed in an escrow fund. Owners can draw from the fund should their share fall below 50%, which is projected to happen this season.

    Owners considered the players previous decision to defer payment as a sign of good faith. Daly declined to comment on the latest deferment, saying it’s a decision left entirely to players.

    The NHL paused its season on March 12, with Commissioner Gary Bettman adamant the league intends to award the Stanley Cup, even it means extending the playoffs into September.

    The decision on when and how to resume the season is being left with a committee made up of representatives of the NHL and NHL Players’ Association.

    The topics of discussion include whether it's feasible to conclude all or a portion of the regular season or go directly into the playoffs. The season was postponed with 189 games remaining and teams having played an uneven number of games.

    Among the options discussed are an expanded playoff format, featuring as many as 24 teams, and the likelihood of having groups of teams gather and play games in a select number of hub cities around the continent and without fans present.

    There is no set deadline as to when play must resume before the NHL considers canceling the season. Games could feasibly be played into October with the 2020-21 season potential opening in December or January.

    New Jersey Devils defenseman Connor Carrick said both sides are attempting to make the best of a difficult situation.

    “It’s going to be an interesting solution, and I think you embrace the novelty with it," Carrick said.

    One concern is how a potential nine-month layoff would affect players on non-playoff teams.

    On Monday, veteran Devils goaltender Cory Schneider said a growing number of players are concerned the NHL will announce a “drop-dead” deadline for returning to play.

    “I think that’s everyone’s concern right now,” said Schneider, the team’s union representative. “It’s a lot of guys asking is there a drop-dead date? What’s the date that it’s just too late, that you can get a semblance of a season or a playoff.”

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    NHL agrees on 24-team playoff for coronavirus return, issues remain

    Approving a format for the NHL’s contemplated return to the ice this summer should have been relatively easy and the least of the league’s and NHLPA’s problems.

    It wasn’t easy at all, but it is done.

    More difficult, complex issues lay ahead, and there may be details still to be hammered out, such as bracketing versus reseeding, but the players association’s executive board comprised of 31 team player reps did authorize the union to move forward and negotiate outstanding issues with the understanding that the league would reopen with an expanded 24-team tournament if the parties are able to surmount massive obstacles to stage a summer comeback following the March 12 pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    It remains to be seen whether outstanding matters involving health and safety protocols; quasi-quarantine for perhaps up to 10 weeks within a hub city and separation from family; rules of engagement on the ice, and financial considerations including the players’ escrow obligations will be as difficult to navigate as this one that proved difficult. And these would seem to be the most pertinent issues.

    “The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup,” read a statement issued by the union on Friday night. “Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”

    The NHLPA held a conference call Thursday night ahead of a vote to accept or reject the NHL’s proposed return-to-play format featuring a 24-team tournament in which the clubs with the top four records in each conference would receive byes into the first round while the teams seeded fifth through 12th would meet in a best-of-five play-in series. The teams with the NHL’s seven worst records would not reconvene.

    The Post has been told by several parties familiar with the call that a significant faction of players believe the format does not sufficiently reward clubs for their success before the NHL season was put on pause. These players — or proxies — spoke their piece.

    The Penguins, for instance, were in third place in the Metro Division, three points behind the Flyers and four points behind the Capitals, all three with 13 games remaining. Pittsburgh was six points clear of a playoff spot. That has become all but irrelevant. Under this format, the Penguins would play a best-of-five against the Canadiens, 12th in the East and 23rd overall, for the right to advance to the first round. The Habs were 10 points out of a playoff berth when the season stopped and at a games-played disadvantage.
    see also
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    Still, the motion passed overwhelmingly.

    Under this scenario, the 11th-seed Rangers would meet sixth-seed Carolina while the seventh-seed Islanders would face 10th-seeded Florida in the play-in round.

    There is no timetable attached to a contemplated 2019-20 restart, though the consensus is that training camps likely wouldn’t open until late June or early July.

    In addition to the outstanding issues that must be brokered between the league and the union, there are immigration, visa matters and travel restrictions that must be resolved by government agencies before the NHL can plot its return to the ice.

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