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NHL’s return-to-play only part of negotiations with players

Brayden McNabb was asked this week what issue is primarily on his mind as the NHL works to resume the season, and the Golden Knights defenseman wasn’t sure where to begin.

“That’s a tough question,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now.”

McNabb and the other members of the NHL Players’ Association have more to consider at the moment than simply voting on whether to complete the season.

In addition to protocols for training camp (Phase Three) and the 24-team postseason tournament (Phase Four), the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic necessitated that the collective bargaining agreement be reworked.

All those items, plus others such as shifting the critical dates on the NHL calendar (ie: the start of free agency), required lengthy negotiations.

The league is expected to make one blanket announcement covering all aspects of its return along with the details of a new CBA if approved by the NHLPA and Board of Governors.

Until then, here is a closer look at the items being worked out by the league and players’ association:

Return-to-play plan

Most indications are that training camps will be pushed back from the tentative start date of July 10. Multiple reports have identified July 13 as the new target, with the dates pending for any exhibition games and the schedule for its 24-team tournament to award the Stanley Cup.

Health and testing guidelines still have to be agreed upon for the final two phases of the plan in the event of positive tests for COVID-19. Notably, players are expected to have the ability to opt out of participating.

The offseason calendar also must be worked out, with the date of the NHL draft still not set, for instance. There also might be some clarity on whether players such as Knights prospect Jack Dugan will be eligible to sign and participate in the postseason.

As of now, it appears Dugan will not be eligible to play, although the possibility remains he could sign for the 2019-20 season and burn the first year of his entry-level contract as a compromise.

Hub cities

The league hasn’t made it official, but Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto appear to be the picks.

Las Vegas is expected to be bypassed after being widely regarded as a leading contender to host. Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL would monitor COVID-19 data throughout the process, and the shift toward Canada coincided with a recent surge in new cases in Clark County.

Edmonton also is the favorite to host the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final, according to a report from TSN.

The league and NHLPA are hammering out details for what life will look like inside the “bubble” after players indicated they don’t want to be exclusively restricted to their hotel rooms and the rink. McNabb confirmed that family members would not be permitted to visit until the conference final round.

The CBA

With revenue at a standstill since the league paused March 12, players were potentially on the hook for a massive escrow bill to ensure owners received their 50 percent share of the pie.

And the salary cap, which is directly tied to revenue, would have plummeted from its $81.5 million ceiling and created chaos as teams shed salary in order to become compliant.

As a result, the two sides are working on a memorandum of understanding for a new CBA.

According to a report from The Hockey News, the deal would be extended three years and expire after the 2024-25 season. The salary cap would be frozen at $81.5 million for the next two seasons before rising to $82.5 million in 2022-23 and $83.5 million in 2023-24.

Escrow also would be capped at 20 percent next season and decrease each ensuing season, allowing the players to see more of their paychecks while digging out of the financial hole over the life of the deal.

The extension would also include the NHL’s return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026.

“There’s a lot of little things that have been discussed. A lot of stuff that’s going to need a little bit of ironing out,” McNabb said. “I think as players, the big thing, for the most part, is escrow for sure.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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