Nothing is official between the NHL and NHLPA on a format for the 2020-21 season, but progress is being made. As reported earlier today, financial negotiations – including a proposal of compliance buyouts – have been put to rest and the two sides will move forward with the terms agreed upon in the CBA. There is still work to be done on an agreement of numerous other details for the season, but both sides seem optimistic about a January 13 start date and some players, like New Jersey’s Nico Hischier, are already planning their returns to North America in preparation.
As for what comes next in the planning process, TSN’s Frank Seravalli, Darren Dreger, and Pierre LeBrun spoke at length about possible roster changes for the coming year in the latest edition of “Insider Trading”. Given the risks associated with the potential for a Coronavirus breakout in a locker room, as well as the health complications of adding players to the roster via recall, it seems likely that rosters will be expanded and taxi squads may be implemented for this season. Seravalli specifically notes that active rosters could grow to 26 and taxi squads of four could bring the total group of available players for each team to 30. There is also the possibility that the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks could be given an exception for larger taxi squads, as their AHL affiliates play outside of Canada and adding to the roster would be a long and involved process. He mentions that the other Canadian teams do not share this problem, as their AHL teams play in Canada and are expected to have their own division this season. The group did not address the salary cap implications that an expanded roster may have, but expect that taxi squad members will be paid AHL salaries but receive NHL benefits.
Regardless of the safeguards that the league puts in place with rosters as well as travel and gameplay, it seems inevitable that there will be cases of Coronavirus among NHL players and personnel this season. As the NFL season has shown, that can cause quite the confusion when it comes to scheduling. So while many expected the 2020-21 season to be condensed due to the delayed start, TSN’s insiders report that the schedule will actually have numerous off days built in to accommodate make-up games.
For now, each side continues to discuss all options internally – the NHLPA Executive Board met today and the NHL Board of Governors is set to meet later this week – while negotiating with one another. As noted earlier today, the new target date to begin play is January 13 with training camps for all teams likely to begin on January 3 and almost certainly a uniform period of quarantine for all prior to arrival at camp (Dreger believes eight days of isolation will be required). As such, the clock is ticking and the hope is that the two sides can have all the details hammered out sooner rather than later now that their financial debate has been resolved.