NHL, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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FILE – In this Feb. 20, 2020, file photo, Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith warms up for the team’s NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Edmonton, Alberta. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Sunday, July 5, that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have agreed on protocols to resume the season. Daly said the sides are still negotiating a collective bargaining agreement extension. A CBA extension is still crucial to the process. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

Assuming approval from owners and players, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to two “hub” cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 — nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results “eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

“We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. “The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered before I could vote yay or nay.”

Once play resumes, one player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

The league will be in charge of testing players daily once they get to their game city.

“The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. “It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

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