There is a significant step towards the return of hockey this summer since, on Sunday, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed on procedures to recommence the season. Bill Daly, the Deputy Commissioner, reported that the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process. Nonetheless, there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games. An anonymous person who understands the situation stated that if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement, then the return-to-play protocols would go into effect.
The majority of the players’ executive committee, full membership, and two-thirds of the league’s board of governors must vote in favor of completing a return. It will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that started in mid-March if everything is ratified. The return of games is expected at the end of July or early August, with 24 teams playing in an expanded playoff, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October. Health and safety procedures that the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations are outlined in the 47 pages of protocols. All players have up to 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify their teams if they are choosing to opt-out of taking part in training camp and games.
All teams are limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games for those playing. There are also limited to 52 personnel in its game city and to be quarantined from the general public during play. Family members will only be allowed to join when play is relocated to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final. In acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the rest of the season, the league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive.
Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June that players would be pretty well-protected from being exposed. The guidelines include a delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak and a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone. Each team is expected to open training camps on July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games, if the protocols are approved. Since June 8, nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining, players have been able to skate and train off-ice involuntary, and small-group workouts.
The return for the playoffs is viewed as a stirring victory for the NHL. There have been deep fears on the cancelation of the rest of the season as word of positive tests didn’t help. In recent weeks, a few players have expressed concerns about the uncertainty surrounding a return. There will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup, if the protocols and a CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players. It was only in 1919 when the final could not be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was canceled because of a lockout.