The Latest On The NHL’s ‘Return To Play’

The NHL and NHLPA continue to hold daily calls, trying to put together a plan for the upcoming 2020-21 season. The 16-player ‘Return To Play’ (RTP) committee has convened nearly every day over the past week.

As of today, both sides still plan for an opening day of January 1 and the Cup to be awarded by July 15 at the latest, which means getting a plan in place by the end of this month. According to Pierre Lebrun, the goal is to have an agreement in place within the next 7-10 days.

Most of the conversations between both sides have focused on a schedule of 60-plus games in the season, and an all-Canadian division remains a focus due to border crossing issues.

Current talks continue to focus on trying to get games back in each teams home arenas (without fans) to start the season, although both sides admit the 2020-21 season could be an amalgamation of game scenarios, including the use of mini-bubbles for a period of time. Teams would enter a regional bubble for two weeks, and then return home for a week.

According to Elliotte Friedman, during a recent virtual panel discussion for the Paley International Council Summit, commissioner Gary Bettman indicated the possibilities include teams playing in their own arenas, in hubs, or in a hybrid system. According to multiple sources, there is a growing push for teams to play in their own buildings, with or without fans. One reason, for example, is naming rights on these arenas. With fewer events, those sponsorship deals could be affected.

According to reporter Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly are including a buffer period in the schedule to make sure no surprises emerge in May when the playoffs are set to get underway.

“The goal is to end the regular season on May 1,” said Lavoie. However, that doesn’t mean the playoffs will automatically start on May 4th. They may start a little later.

“If the NHL has to postpone games because there are too many COVID-19 cases on a team, it’s very simple: they will postpone them towards the end of the season.”

Bill Daly has also ruled out the possibility of using the points percentage to determine which teams qualify for the playoffs next season.

Last summer, a 24-team tournament was set up, and the points percentage was used to draw a line between qualified and excluded teams. The solution made sense, as the teams had not all played the same number of regular season games at the time of the suspension of activities announced on March 12.

However, the NHL plans to revert to the usual formula. In 2021, the number of points should therefore determine the position of the teams in the race for the playoffs.

There are still plenty of sizeable details to iron out, none more larger than player salary. The two sides signed a CBA extension last summer agreeing to 72 per cent of their gross pay for the upcoming season. The players feel this number is set whether they play one game or 70-something games. However, owners feel those salaries should be prorated, especially if there’s no clear path to attendance — creating losses higher than anything 20 per cent escrow would withstand.

The NHLPA has recently stated that they are not willing to accept additional prorated pay reductions if the regular season is shortened, yet the NHL seems to be moving in that direction. This could be a sticky one down the stretch.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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