Time has all but run out on the NHL’s hope to start the season Jan. 1, with the league and players association now focusing their discussions on opening play in mid January, the Associated Press reported Friday.
A mid-January start date has become more realistic given the number of issues that need to be resolved before players can begin traveling to their home cities, the report said.
The sides still need to agree on a schedule, with the current working plan featuring between 52 and 56 regular-season games. There has also been talk of a buffer being worked into the schedule in the event games are postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Without going into detail, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press that “various similar concepts are being discussed” when asked about the 52- or 56-game schedule and mid-January start.
Also needing to be resolved is a one-time division realignment, with the likelihood of there being a seven-team all-Canada division due to cross-border travel restrictions, as well as an updated coronavirus protocol for players and teams.
Under a mid-January start date, players would have to begin reporting after Christmas, followed by a shortened training camp and preseason. The regular season would likely stretch into early May at the latest, with the Stanley Cup final targeted to end in late June or early July.
It would be similar to the 2013 season, which began in mid January and featured a 48-game schedule as a result of a lockout. Teams played a more condensed schedule by squeezing in 48 games over just under 100 days. In a normal season, teams play 82 games over about 185 days in a schedule that includes breaks for Christmas, the All-Star Game and a bye week.
Commissioner Gary Bettman raised the likelihood of the date being changed this week during a Sports Business Journal panel discussion by calling it “a work in progress.”
The discussions regarding the start to the season have been ongoing and are separate from the recent economic concerns raised by the NHL.
About five months after extending the collective bargaining agreement, the league has proposed altering the deal to make up for projected revenue losses affecting the 50-50 revenue split between owners and players.
The labor deal calls for players to defer 10 percent of their salary for the upcoming season, and it puts a cap on how much money will be kept in escrow over the length of the deal.
Last month, the league raised the possibility of having players increase salary deferrals to 20 percent or 26 percent and increasing the escrow caps.
Though Bettman said the league is not attempting to renegotiate the labor deal, the players and several agents have accused the NHL of attempting to renege on what was agreed to in July.
— By JOHN WAWROW; Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
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