NHL and NHLPA Agree to Return to Play Protocols, CBA Extension

Rejoice, hockey fans, rejoice. It’s been nearly four months since the LA Kings and Ottawa Senators left the ice in what was the final regular season game of the 2019-20 NHL season, but now the wait is over. The NHL Board of Governors and NHL Players Association have agreed to an extension of the current CBA and -more importantly in the immediate future- the NHL’s Return to Play Phase 3 and Phase 4 protocols, which means we will have hockey back in our lives very soon:

As we outlined earlier this week, the most notable dates for Phase 3 (Training Camps) and Phase 4 (Games) are:

  • July 13: Start of formal training camps
  • July 26: Clubs travel to hub cities
  • August 1: Start of Qualifying Round

There were a few some murmurings from reporters stating that some players were unhappy with the potential Return to Play protocols, with an outlandish rumor that 75% of players were opposed to finishing the 2019-20 season.

In the end, 79% of the NHLPA membership voted to pass the RTP protocols and CBA, a number that is admittedly lower than I had expected:

The real key to all of this was the fact that the vote on RTP protocols came in conjunction with an extension of the CBA. Given the financial uncertainty of a post-pandemic world, the players would have been taking a huge risk by turning down labor peace for the next six years.

Are the Return to Play protocols perfect? No.

We’ve already seen issues within the NBA’s bubble, as players have been unhappy with overpriced food for an underwhelming product. Disney employees, including hotel and food workers aren’t being quarantined in the bubble with the players they’re going to be around. Major League Soccer is operating out of the same bubble at the outdoor fields of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya spoke prior to and following the team’s win over NYCFC on Thursday about the anxiety he and his teammates have felt traveling to Orlando and back-and-forth to their hotel rooms.

The NHL doesn’t have a bubble. They’ve waited as long as possible to whittle down the list of ten potential hub cities to the two best locations they could find, both of which -Toronto and Edmonton- are in Canada. It’s not nearly as risky as Major League Baseball’s decision to let teams play games in their home stadiums, opening their players and team staffs to countless stadium workers, hotel workers, restaurant/catering staffs, and more, but there is inherent risk in resuming a season before a vaccine is available.

Ultimately, enough players chose labor peace over concern of the risk of contracting what’s been a very difficult to control virus. Did they make the right call? That truly depends on the individuals. For what it’s worth, the NHL has previously stated that any players who are uncomfortable with the RTP protocols can opt out of the tournament. Given what we know about hockey players, it would be surprising to see many go that route.

Hockey is back. Let’s drop the puck.

Update: The NHL has released the schedule for the Return to Play.

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