Vancouver Canucks’ Brandon Sutter (20) is stopped by Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner (90) during third period NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Edmonton on Friday, September 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Vancouver Canucks’ Brandon Sutter (20) is stopped by Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner (90) during third period NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Edmonton on Friday, September 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Surging virus cases and border restrictions have led to delays, uncertainty

A far cry from the standings at Thanksgiving serving as a barometer of which teams are most likely to make the playoffs, the NHL heads into the U.S. holiday without a firm plan announced for next season.

The league and players are running out of time to start the season Jan. 1 as previously planned, with various pandemic-related problems standing in the way. There is uncertainty on many fronts.

“The landscape is — there’s a lot of unknowns associated with where we’re going in the immediate future,” Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Monday. “Hopefully things, with all the positive news associated with vaccines and a hopeful climate that could potentially exist that we get back on track. But we have some ground to cover.”

Some of the groundwork is already in place. Realignment featuring an all-Canadian division and regional play in the U.S. appears likely and should push the thorny issue of cross-border travel back to the playoffs. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association also agreed to a long-term extension of the collective bargaining agreement last summer to get hockey through the pandemic.

But with virus cases surging across North America and the prospect of an even bigger revenue shortfall than owners originally feared, questions have arisen about amending that agreement, which has put the start of the season in peril.

PLAYER SALARIES

Much like Major League Baseball’s struggle to start the 2020 season, it’s all about the money. The CBA — which now runs through 2026 — ensures a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue; includes players deferring 10% of their salary for the upcoming season; and puts a cap on how much money will be kept in escrow over the length of the deal.

Less than five months since the CBA agreement, the league has asked players to increase salary deferrals to 20% or 26% and increasing the escrow caps, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is publicly announcing details of negotiations.

Assuming the season is shorter than a full 82 games, players could balk at taking pro-rated salaries while escrow amounts are increased.

START DATE

The two sides have targeted Jan. 1 to start the season. Some steps need to be taken soon for that to happen.

A training camp of roughly two weeks would need to precede opening night. The later the season starts, the fewer games there might be. There could be as few as 50 or as many as 70-plus games for each team, with the stipulation that the Stanley Cup should probably be awarded before the Summer Olympics open in Tokyo on July 23.

VIDEO: Canucks unveil redesigned jersey as part of NHL’s ‘Reverse Retro’ collection

“What starts with me is: Let’s get the season started,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “I’m up for however it looks. Whatever the league and the PA think is the best way to get us back playing, whether it’s with fans, some fans, no fans, TV being (more) relevant, if you will. Whatever it takes to get this season going and get it in place.”

REALIGNMENT

A division made up of the seven teams based in Canada — Montreal,, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver — makes the most sense given the border with the U.S. is closed to nonessential travel through Dec. 21 and possibly beyond. Bettman said earlier this month the NHL isn’t moving those seven teams south of the border “so we have to look at alternative ways to play.”

READ MORE: NHLers weigh in on the idea of an all-Canadian division: ‘It would be pretty unique’

If there was one Canadian division, three U.S. divisions to cut down on long-distance travel might look like this, though discussions are ongoing and nothing has been finalized:

— A division with Arizona, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vegas, Colorado, Dallas and either Minnesota or St. Louis.

— A division with St. Louis or Minnesota, Chicago, Nashville, Detroit, Columbus, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida.

— A division with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, New Jersey, Boston and all three New York teams.

Playoffs in the same divisions would determine the final four playing for the Stanley Cup.

“Whatever it looks like, to me, I know it’ll be well thought out,” Poile said. “I just don’t know what it’s going to look like right now.”

VIRUS CONCERNS

Multiple Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Team facilities are open for voluntary workouts with protocols in place, though those teams had to close off-ice areas.

After the NHL constructed tight bubbles for the post-season amid the summer surge, players testing positive — and how to deal with that like other leagues have — might be a factor early in 2021.

___

Stephen Whyno And John Wawrow, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

Stettler sign
Stettler Community Builders initiaitve continues to take shape

Project will honour Stettler citizens who were influential in the town’s history

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Stettler town hall. (Lisa Joy/Stettler Independent)
The proposed Stettler Skate Park expansion is one more step closer to fruition

The third phase of the skateboard park will see a concrete ‘bowl’ added to the edge of the existing skatepark

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

(Photo submitted)
Community Futures brings back Social Media Challenge for 2021

This time the challenge is for non-profits and community groups

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

Most Read