The NHL Players’ Assn. approved the general concept of the NHL’s proposal to resume play and complete the 2019-20 season, saying Friday it will continue talks with the league regarding key points of the return-to-play plan.
“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,” the union said in a statement issued 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 began voting on the plan Thursday. The NHL’s proposal called for scrapping the rest of the regular season and starting postseason play with 24 teams grouped in two “hub” cities. The top four teams in each conference, as determined by points percentage, would play a round-robin series against one another that could affect their seeding; the other eight teams would play a best-of-five series to determine who would advance and face the top four teams. Every series after the first round would be best-of-seven. No spectators would be allowed, at least initially.
However, the proposal left many vital details blank. Among them were dates when players would begin to train in their respective NHL cities, when training camp and games would begin, and protocol for COVID-19 testing.
If voluntary workouts can begin next week and a three-week training camp period can begin in late June, the playoffs could start in mid-July and the Cup would be awarded in September.
Also to be determined is which cities will be chosen as hubs. Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Las Vegas, St. Paul, Minn., and Columbus, Ohio, are considered top contenders.
Prominent player agent Allan Walsh, co-managing director of Octagon Hockey, called Friday’s announcement, “A significant but incremental step forward with a long road still to go before we actually drop the puck on a Return to Play.”
About 15% of the regular-season schedule remained when Commissioner Gary Bettman paused the season March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a considerable amount of TV revenue at stake, Bettman has said he’s determined to finish the season and award the Cup even if that means delaying the launch of the 2020-21 season.