NHL continues crawl toward start of its regular season

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

Detroit — If you’ve been gorging on football, getting ready for the holidays, or just returning from an extended Thanksgiving vacation, well, there’s still no hockey.

There has been no formal announcement of an NHL return, a schedule, or when training camp will even begin.

There’s been reported progress, and much discussion upon how the return will look.

But the tough stuff appears to be still negotiated.

So, there’s cautious optimism of the NHL returning soon. But they’re not quite there, yet.

Here’s where the NHL stands, currently, as the NHL and NHL Players Association continue to hammer out the details on an expected return amid the pandemic.

► First off, the hoped-for Jan. 1 start isn’t going to happen.

There’s simply not enough time to get everything in order, hold even an abbreviated training camp, and start on New Year’s Day.

So, the guess is, the NHL regular season would start somewhere between Jan. 15 and Feb. 1, depending on how many games are played (to be examined later).

► It was expected the Red Wings and six other teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs over the summer would get about a week head start to training camp.

You’d think it makes some sense. They haven’t done anything as teams on the ice since March 12.

But given the crunch on time, it’s not an absolute given the Wings and those six other teams are going to get that extra time.

It’ll depend on when the regular season actually begins, and how quickly the two sides work out a deal.

The Wings might only get two to four days of extra time together — maybe none at all — if the NHL and players want to get as many regular-season games in, and shorten the entire preseason and raining camp.

► It’s unknown how many regular-season games to expect. If the puck drops close to Jan. 15, it’s been reported the league and players association would like to get as many as 56 games in, maybe 52.

More games means more revenue for everyone.

But if the start is around Feb. 1, there’s a good chance the season will be in the 48- to 52-game range, given the shorter amount of runway to schedule games.

The NHL wants to complete the playoffs, and award the Stanley Cup, by early July, ahead of the Summer Olympics, which broadcast partner NBC also televises.

► Expect divisions to be realigned for this one season. 

With the borders still closed, there will be an all-Canadian division this season. The other 24 teams will be grouped in three divisions, with the Wings expected to be housed in a Central Division.

Who, exactly, is with the Wings in this division remains to be seen, but longtime Central rivals such as Chicago, St. Louis and Nashville could be back on the Wings’ radar this abbreviated season.

► As for where games might be played, there’s been more of a push to have the games at each team’s home arena, even with no fans in most arenas given most local regulations throughout North America.

But, given the steadily alarming number of virus cases the last several weeks, it might not be surprising to see the NHL begin in hubs.

Teams in a given division would be housed in one central location, and teams would rotate in and out of the other divisions, for a period of time.

A team like San Jose already is impacted by that area’s ban on contact sports, so the Sharks are expected to practice and play in Arizona. 

The NHL is setting aside scenarios for similar situations elsewhere, along with preparing to build in some buffer time at the end of the schedule.

Given baseball had cancellations when teams like St. Louis and Miami had virus outbreaks, and the difficulties the NFL has had, the NHL will have to be prepared for similar hiccups.

► The biggest issues hanging everything up, though, appears to be money.

The NHL and the NHLPA agreed to a 10% salary deferral when they worked out a collective bargaining agreement last summer. But now, the NHL is coming back asking for an additional 16%, given the lousier-than-expected economic projections.

Also, the NHL is asking to raise escrow in the final three years (from 2023-24 through 2025-26) of the CBA from 6 to 9%.

The players association isn’t happy about any of this, nor should it be, having what it thought was an agreement with the NHL.

Sure, it’s likely the two sides work something out and find a middle ground. But in money issues like these, that’s never an absolute certainty.


Twitter: @tkulfan

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