NHL entering crucial stretch in planning for next season

Anthony Stewart joins Tim and Sid to talk about how a changing economic landscape will impact players in the NHL.

Get ready for an intense couple of weeks.

With the NBA and its players setting a target date of Dec. 22 for its 2020-21 season tipoff, the NHL and NHLPA are grinding away at the upcoming hockey schedule. Players are ready; it is weird for them to be inactive at this time of year. As originally reported by The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent a note to all 31 teams on Tuesday stating the league believed that “progress towards finalizing a recommendation to the board of governors is being made.”

There is a Board meeting on Thursday, but a recommendation may not be ready by then.

Here’s what else we are hearing:

• At this point, the NHL hopes to have the Stanley Cup awarded no later than July 15.

• Different sources have heard different potential lengths for the 2020-21 season. Some have heard as few as 56 games, others as many as 72. (The later we start, those numbers would drop.) It is possible the league decreases the number of games to keep a couple of “open weeks” at the end of the regular season in case cancellations create a need to balance the schedule. If those prove to be unnecessary, the playoffs would be moved up.

• The discussion around hubs is…interesting. Tuesday, during a virtual panel discussion during the Paley International Council Summit, commissioner Gary Bettman indicated the possibilities include teams playing in their own arenas, in hubs, or in a hybrid system. According to multiple sources, there is a growing push for teams to play in their own buildings, with or without fans. One reason, for example, is naming rights on these arenas. With fewer events, those sponsorship deals could be affected.

• As far as I can tell, the largest remaining unsettled issue involves player salaries. To them, this issue is settled. They signed a CBA extension last summer agreeing to 72 per cent of their gross pay for the upcoming season. They feel this number is set whether they play one game or 70-something games. However, owners feel those salaries should be prorated, especially if there’s no clear path to attendance — creating losses higher than anything 20 per cent escrow would withstand.

At some point, this is going to have to be addressed to see if common ground can be found. It is not an insignificant issue.

If Jan. 1 is indeed possible, we’re going to have to know soon, so players can get to their NHL cities. The seven teams that did not make the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are hoping to get an extra few days of training camp. The next couple of weeks are going to be busy.

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