Phase 3 and 4 of NHL’s Return To Play plan gets tentative go-ahead

ZZZZ1212057571.jpg.0

Toronto Sun

A part of the new collective bargaining agreement pertaining to the proposed playoff tournament has a tentative go-ahead.

Phase 3 and 4 of the Return To Play plan, with the resumption of training camps and the actual games, was basically settled Sunday night as marathon talks between the NHL and the players’ association going back to last week continue. A final vote of the full NHLPA is required when the full CBA document is presented.

The health and safety of players, COVID-19 testing and protocols within the quarantine bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton has understandably been a hot-button topic, with players wanting maximum protection for themselves and some kind of accommodation for their families if they choose to join them for part of the tourney, which could run weeks or months.

The players will be in specific hotels and aren’t supposed to go much beyond their rooms, the practice rink and main rink. There is also language that will allow players to opt out of the event.

The most vital part of the negotiation is for a multi-year CBA, which is nearing completion and could mean labour peace until the summer of 2026.

Once the CBA and the league’s playoff start-up plan are ratified, players will have a few days before the start of training camps to decide if they’ll participate, with no repercussions should they decline.

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported Sunday night that should a player test positive or develop symptoms in either Phase 3 and 4, teams are not permitted to share that information with the media or public, unless granted by the league, which must also consult with the union.

And when players are away from home during the tournament phase, team personnel will assist with grocery delivery and errands for their families.

What life in NHL’s ‘secure zone’ could look like when season restarts

ZZZZEdmonton-Oilers-first-skate-since-pandemic-640x360

  Sportsnet

It remains to be seen if any player even gets inside the “secure zone” the NHL hopes to create in Edmonton and Toronto this summer.

But the consequences for leaving that highly controlled area and re-entering during a season restart are already tentatively set: At least four days confined to your hotel room, with four consecutive negative results needed from coronavirus tests before you’re able to resume practising, playing or just walking around the bubble.

That’s part of a dense booklet of protocols finalised Sunday, but still subject to ratification by NHL players and owners. Voting should happen in the coming days, once the NHL and NHL Players’ Association finish the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement and tie up other loose ends.

The protocols they agreed to for Phase 3 (training camps) and Phase 4 (competition) are at once expansive and open-ended.

For example, it’s not entirely clear how players with an excused absence for the birth of a child, or an illness or death in the family, will be reintroduced to the bubble beyond needing to produce the series of four negative tests.

As for those who leave without permission? Well, that infraction comes with punishments designed to keep players from even thinking about it, including a strict quarantine for up to 14 days, refusal of access back into the bubble and the possible dismissal from being part of the competition phase altogether.

And any team that violates the rules will be subject to “significant penalties, potentially including fines and/or loss of draft picks.”

These protocols offer the clearest picture yet of what a 24-team playoff tournament might look like in lock down, assuming that can be pulled off. The creation of the “secure zone” is essential to finishing off the NHL season and it’s going to demand a lot of participants.

Here’s a look at how it’ll operate:

OPT OUT

No player is required to attend training camp or take part in the season restart if he’s unwilling. Everyone has a penalty-free option to opt out that requires such a decision to be communicated to your team in writing beforehand.

The official deadline for that decision will fall three days after the ratification of the return-to-play agreement, which means it won’t arrive for another week or more. The NHLPA membership vote is expected to run through at least Friday. That would require opt-out decisions to be made by Monday, July 13 — which is the targeted opening for camps.

TESTING

Once inside the secure zone in Edmonton and Toronto, players will be subjected to daily coronavirus testing via nasal swab and temperature check. So will club personnel, on-ice officials, locker-room attendants, security workers, hotel bartenders, housekeepers,
members of the ice crew, public address announcers and NHL social media staff, to name but a few.

The list covers everyone with access to team spaces inside hotels or on the event level at the arena.

BOUNDARIES

The secure zone is designed to “maintain the safety of all individuals participating in Phase 4 and to mitigate the incremental risk associated with the introduction or persons not essential to its execution.”

Inside its boundaries are hotels, dining destinations, the arena, the practice facilities and other demarcated areas.

Everyone must wear a credential at all times while inside the bubble. Anyone found without one will be denied entry to access points and escorted back to his or her hotel to get it, or to a designated area where temporary credentials can be printed for use that day.

Among the permitted reasons for leaving the secure zone: To receive medical assessment or care, or to retrieve necessary medical supplies like prescriptions; for players to consult with or be examined by a physician of their choice; and if individuals receive approval from a supervisor to leave because of extenuating circumstances like the birth of a child or an illness or death in the family.

Social excursions will also be arranged outside the secure zone in situations where disinfecting, distancing and use of face coverings can be maintained. This is done in recognition of “the importance of mental health and the psychological benefit of variation in activity.”

TRAVELLING PARTY

Each team is limited to bringing 52 people inside the secure zone, which sounds like a lot until you examine the list of required attendees:

1. A roster of no more than thirty-one (31) Players
2. Three (3) Coaches
3. Two (2) Club Athletic Trainers
4. One (1) Club Physician
5. One (1) Equipment Manager
6. One (1) Massage Therapist
7. One (1) ART Therapist/Chiropractor
8. One (1) Content Creator/Social Media individual
9. One (1) NHL security representative
10. One (1) representative to serve as the Club Compliance Officer

That fills 43 spots right there and hasn’t even factored in team management or a public relations official. The vast majority of NHL teams carry at least five coaches and will want extra equipment managers, athletic trainers and strength coaches on hand because of the expanded roster of players.

Spots will be tight.

TRAVEL

Teams will fly to hub cities using charters, but there are rules about how members of the travelling party get to the airport. No carpooling, no public transportation, no ride shares, no taxis.

If no alternative is available, teams will make arrangements to pick up individuals at their residence. All drivers must wear gloves and a mask or face covering.

After arrival at the secure zone, the only allowable transportation is provided by the NHL.

Every individual is assigned his or her own room and is forbidden from having guests in the room during Phase 4. The only exception to this rule will be made during the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, when a player’s spouse and kids are permitted to join them inside the bubble.

Each team will be designated its own floor inside the hotel.

Housekeeping is to be done every third day, although housekeepers aren’t permitted to enter a room while it’s occupied.

Hotel pools are permitted for use to all individuals if opened, but spas, steam rooms and saunas will be closed.

A schedule will be established for use of the fitness centre to ensure players and other NHL staff and Phase 4 personnel are able to work out separately, with equipment disinfected before and after each use.

FOOD

Several dining options will be available, including hotel restaurants and bars, hotel-catered meals in club-dedicated meeting and conference rooms, contactless room service delivery and delivery from local restaurants to a designated drop-off point where packages will be wiped down with disinfectant wipes.

PRECAUTIONS

Physical distancing is required wherever possible, including on team buses, while eating meals in restaurants or team conference areas and during exercise.

Players are required to wear face coverings at all times except when in their hotel room, on the ice, working out, or eating or drinking. Coaches will not have to wear masks while on the bench, and on-ice officials won’t have to wear them during games.

Among the other things to be avoided: Handshakes, high fives and fist bumps.

POSITIVE TESTS

Anyone who develops coronavirus symptoms inside the bubble is required to immediately self-isolate and contact a team doctor or trainer. A medical evaluation and further testing, if necessary, will follow.

Isolation is also required when someone produces a positive test.

A second test will be conducted by an independent healthcare provider to confirm the result. Should it come back positive, the individual must remain in isolation until medical clearance is obtained. In the event it’s negative, the individual is still required to spend another 24 hours in isolation and produce a second negative test result before gaining clearance to resume activities.

Anyone with a confirmed positive status “shall remain in isolation, shall not exercise and shall not participate in any club/business activity.”

How long isolation lasts depends on whether the person has symptoms or not. Asymptomatic individuals must either produce at least two consecutive negative tests more than 24 hours apart or wait 10 days from the original positive result.

For those with symptoms, two negative tests are needed once a fever or any coughing/shortness of breath has subsided or a 72-hour period without symptoms, provided the person has been in self-isolation for a minimum of 10 days.

A treating physician must also conclude the person no longer presents a risk of infection to others.

Any player exiting isolation must refrain from exercise for a 14-day period from the time of the first positive test and receive, at minimum, an ECG, echocardiogram and high sensitivity troponin.

CONTACT TRACING

Anyone who has spent 15 minutes within six feet of a person during the 48 hours leading up to a positive test or the onset of symptoms will be identified for further testing. Even if that test comes back negative, the “close contact” will be monitored for a 14-day period.

NON-DISCLOSURE

Teams are not permitted to disclose any information to the media or public about a player’s positive test result or his development of symptoms during Phase 3 or Phase 4.

GROCERY SERVICE

While players are away from home during Phase 4, club personnel will assist with grocery delivery or other delivery errands for his family, as needed. Teams are also required to assist player families with accessing medical services, including coronavirus testing.

DRESS CODES

Teams will not enforce dress codes during Phase 4, including when travelling to and from hub cities.

Under normal circumstances, players are required to wear a suit and tie to games. They can go with something more comfortable and casual during the pandemic.

NHL, NHLPA tentatively agree to CBA extension, return-to-play plan

ZZZZ1252801998.jpg.0

The NHL is one giant step closer to restarting its season.

Pending ratification votes by the owners and players, a memorandum of understanding was reached Monday on an extension to the collective bargaining agreement running through 2026. The deal includes transition rules and a new critical dates calendar.

Coupled with the protocols governing training camps and games tentatively agreed to Sunday, that should pave the way for a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament split between Edmonton and Toronto to start on Aug. 1.

The series of agreements were the culmination of months of discussions and came after a busy week where the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and a battery of lawyers fine-tuned the plan to carry the league through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Before training camps are able to open on July 13, ratification votes for the entire return-to-play package will be held by the NHL’s Board of Governors and the full NHLPA membership. A simple majority is needed among players while three-quarters of owners have to support the plan for it to move ahead.

Reaching this stage of the restart plan required a complex rethinking of the league’s economic system for the next couple years. Even though the current CBA was due to run through September 2022, a negotiated extension was needed with the NHL set to lose more than a $1-billion for the 2019-20 season and even more than that in a 2020-21 campaign that will likely be played in buildings at less than full capacity because of COVID-related restrictions.

Under the new deal, players will defer 10 per cent of next season’s salary and see another 20 per cent contributed to capped escrow. The upper limit of the salary cap will be held flat at $81.5-million.

Elliotte Friedman had a good breakdown of some other major CBA details here.

As part of the NHL return-to-play agreements, any player wishing to opt-out of this summer’s restart for any reason can do so without penalty. They must notify their team in writing before camp opens.

The NHL is hoping to award the Stanley Cup to conclude a season paused March 12 by the rapid spread of COVID-19.

It decided on tightly controlled bubbles in two Canadian hub cities as the most effective way to do so. The remaining Eastern Conference teams are due to report to Toronto while those out west head to Edmonton following training camps.

However, with coronavirus infection rates spiking in parts of the United States, it could still be a challenge to get there without experiencing an outbreak because camps are scheduled to be conducted in each team’s home market.

Earlier Monday, the NHL announced that 35 players had produced positive COVID-19 tests since June 8. That came after the St. Louis Blues closed their practice facility Friday due to multiple positive tests.

NHL’s impending labour peace a huge win amid difficult times

ZZZZimage

  Sportsnet

A strange sensation may have washed over you early Monday evening.

Call it the promise of labour peace in our time.

Unless you are middle-aged, or took a keen interest in labour negotiations before grade school, this isn’t something you’ve experienced courtesy of the NHL. Before this announcement of a memorandum of understanding to extend the collective bargaining agreement through the 2025-26 season, if ratified, you have known the 2012-13 lockout … and the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out the entire season … and the 1994-95 lockout … and the 1992 strike.

That dispute-filled past provides context every bit as important to this agreement as our uncertain present, which underpins the new deal. The transition rules and a four-year extension to the CBA are built around sharing the economic pain brought on by the coronavirus pandemic until more prosperous days return.

Let it be said that this is what leadership looks like in difficult times.

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr found sensible solutions to shared problems without resorting to any of the hostility or grandstanding these negotiations are typically known for. They and their respective leadership teams started meeting out of the spotlight last summer before recalibrating on the fly and piecing together the framework for this agreement amid a health crisis that poses a significant threat to their industry and many others.

That required the CBA to be negotiated on a parallel track to agreements governing intensive return-to-play protocols and the location of hub cities. It was done while also finalising the details of a 24-team tournament to complete the season and agreeing to a new critical dates calendar with the Stanley Cup set to be awarded in early October.

Looking back now, it all seems so orderly.

But that belies the fact it was a tangled unpredictable mess when the season was put on pause in March, like a big ball of yarn strewn across the floor.

The CBA must now be ratified as part of an all-encompassing return-to-play package because the entire thing is inextricably linked. The NHL Board of Governors will hold its vote in the coming days and needs three-quarters support. Once the NHL Players’ Association gets approval from its Executive Board and concludes a period where it educates players about the deal, a full membership vote will be taken that requires a majority for ratification.

If everything goes forward without any hiccups, they could be in position to officially announce the planned resumption of the season by Friday.

There will likely be some opposition votes cast on the players’ end — “It won’t be a landslide,” predicted one source, who has been part of NHLPA calls throughout the negotiations — but it’s important to note that the agreement permits any player to opt out of the summer restart without penalty if he does so within 72 hours of the ratification process being completed.

The NHL intends to hold its summer tournament in Edmonton and Toronto with games starting on Aug. 1, which if successful would mark the first time the Stanley Cup playoffs were held entirely in Canada since 1925, according to Sportsnet Stats.

Getting to the stage where a restart was possible required a complex rethinking of the NHL’s economic system. Even though the current CBA was due to run through September 2022, a negotiated extension was needed with the league set to lose more than a $1 billion for the 2019-20 season and even more than that in a 2020-21 campaign that will likely be played in buildings at less than full capacity because of COVID-related restrictions.

Under the new deal, players will defer 10 per cent of next season’s salary and see another 20 per cent contributed to capped escrow. The upper limit of the salary cap will be held flat at $81.5 million and remain there until hockey-related revenue (HRR) returns to $4.8 billion — at which point the cap will start being calculated using a new formula that relies on the actual HRR from two seasons back, plus the projected HRR from the season prior.

The bonus pool for the pandemic playoffs is doubling to $32 million and, as first reported by colleague Elliotte Friedman, Olympic participation will resume for Beijing 2022 and Milan 2026, pending a subsequent agreement with the IOC.

The players will also see increasingly favourable escrow caps applied throughout the deal while the length of the agreement will be extended by a year if the debt owed back to owners exceeds $125 million at its conclusion. More CBA details can be found here.

Lawyers for the NHL and NHLPA had some late nights in the last week while grinding over the final details of the tentative deal, but it looked nothing like the manner in which the current agreement got across the finish line.

That happened at 4:45 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2013 at the end of a marathon 16-hour bargaining session inside the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Bettman and Fehr looked exhausted while sharing the news with reporters who camped out in the lobby through the night, ending a lockout that spanned 113 days with Fehr saying: “Hopefully, within a very few days the fans can get back to watching people who are skating — not the two of us.”

This time around they were barely seen at all.

Difficult days demanded a different approach.

And it’s greatly increased the odds we’ll soon emerge from a paused season with the chance to see players compete for the Stanley Cup as a result.