The NHL and its players’ union hammered out a tentative agreement for a 56-game season, pending the approval of each side’s executive committee and, perhaps most importantly, health officials, according to multiple reports on Friday.
The shortened season would begin on Jan. 13, with training camps starting as soon as Dec. 30 for the Ducks, Kings and the other five teams that did not advance to the playoffs last summer. The remaining 24 teams would start their camps on Jan. 3. There would be no exhibition games.
It’s possible each of the dates could be pushed back by several days or more.
The league’s board of governors and the players’ association were to hold calls late Friday.
Both sides must still vote to approve the agreement.
The Ducks and Kings last played on March 11. The NHL suspended play one day later because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then resumed it for only the top 24 teams Aug. 1 in hub cities in Edmonton and Toronto. The Stanley Cup was awarded on Sept. 26.
It was uncertain whether the league’s 31 teams would return to play in hub cities again or whether it could start the season with clubs playing in their home arenas, with or without fans. Also still to be determined was the extent of the league’s divisional re-alignment.
What’s more, the thorny question of whether the league’s Canadian teams would be granted permission to play by provincial health departments was unresolved. There was talk of moving the Canadian teams to the U.S. temporarily if health officials wouldn’t agree to coronavirus protocols.
The NHL also could place the Canadian teams in a bubble in Edmonton, but neither option was appealing to the owners or the players, who vowed not to return to the bubble format for 2020-21. After all, the league hopes to have some socially distanced fans in attendance before the end of the season.
“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. “NHL teams and other professional sports must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events.”
Re-alignment, in whatever form it might take, would mean the Ducks, Kings, Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights would say farewell to the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks for the 2020-21 regular season.
The Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and either the Minnesota Wild or St. Louis Blues would likely join with the five U.S.-based Pacific Division teams. Each team would play the seven others eight times each to reach 56 games. There would be no play outside the division.
Rosters would remain at 23 players, according to Canada’s TSN, and each team would have a taxi squad of four to six players, who would practice and travel with the club in case of a coronavirus outbreak or injuries. Taxi squad members would be paid American Hockey League salaries.
The AHL said it would begin its season on Feb. 5 and roster moves would be more flexible.
Players could chose to opt out for personal or family concerns about safety.