Los Angeles (AFP) – The National Hockey League’s board of governors and the players’ union signed off on a deal Friday that paves the way for the pandemic-disrupted season to resume on August 1.
The package also includes a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement which will run through the 2025-26 season.
“Today, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a significant agreement that addresses the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, the framework for the completion of the 2019-20 season, and the foundation for the continued long-term growth of our league,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities.”
In addition, the new CBA includes a clause that allows players to compete in the 2022 and 2026 Olympic Games, although the International Ice Hockey Federation also has to give its approval.
NHL players did not participate in the 2018 Olympic ice hockey tournament in South Korea.
Training camps will open on Monday followed by a 24 team tournament that will take place in two Canadian cities, Edmonton, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario.
The return-to-play plan was officially approved by the players following three days of voting which ended Friday.
“This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said.
The opening of training camps next week comes four months after play was shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Teams would travel to hub cities on July 26, and a qualifying round would begin play on August 1, as the league aims to finalize a field for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Training camps will open in the teams’ local markets, but competition will resume in Canadian hub cities with 12 Eastern Conference teams headed to Toronto and 12 from the West to Edmonton, where the Stanley Cup final would be staged in October.
The top four clubs in each conference will play seeding event while the teams ranked fifth to 12th will meet in a five-game series to determine the four qualifiers that face the seeds in the opening round of the postseason.
Players have the next three days to inform their teams, in writing, if they want to opt out of the rest of the season.
Each team will be allowed 52 people in the “secure zone” quarantine bubble with up to 31 players.
Everyone would undergo daily COVID-19 testing — with 24 teams and 52 people per club, that means 1,248 daily tests when everyone arrives and until teams are knocked out.
The NHL earlier announced that 35 players have tested positive for COVID-19 out of a total of about 3,000 tests.