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

The regional jobs picture has improved. (Innovate Impact Media/Creative Commons photo)
Northwest unemployment rate dips again

Is now second lowest of any region in B.C.

Cedar Valley Lodge, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the LNG Canada Project site in Kitimat. The most recent outbreak among workers at the project site was just declared over. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Second COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site declared over

The outbreak was first declared on Dec. 16, 2020

The first of two massive turbines headed from Prince Rupert for the Site C Dam near Fort St. John on Jan 10. (Photo: Supplied by Tasha McKenzie)
Massive turbines begin trek across Northwestern B.C.

Turbines headed from Prince Rupert to Site C Dam to cause traffic delays week of Jan. 10 to 14

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Most Read