There’s still a lot more to do if the NHLPA approves a return to play format
May 22 2020
Those who were in the room call it a big step.
Sure, the list of items still to be worked out are much more significant in scope than the framework the NHLPA’s Executive Board voted favourably for on Friday night. But it’s a move in the right direction. The first tangible progress towards finishing off the 2019-20 NHL season after more than 10 weeks of uncertainty brought on by the novel coronavirus.
Here’s what the player reps for 31 teams agreed to: A 24-team return-to-play format that will see the top four seeds in each conference given “byes” directly to the playoffs while the other 16 enter a best-of-five play-in round to determine their opponents.
At this point, that’s all.
Some of the other details Elliotte Friedman and I have reported on in recent days are still subject to further discussion — namely if a bracketed playoff format will be used, as is the NHL’s preference, or if seeding might apply instead.
That will help determine what the initial round-robin games played between the top four seeds mean. There had been thought they would be used to allow for some jockeying between positions, but the precise mechanics behind that still need to be hashed out.
And if a seeding system is used, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the Boston Bruins ending up with the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference given that they had an eight-point lead over Tampa when the season was paused.
File that under a matter for another day.
It was a journey for the players to agree to a 24-team framework and included a Thursday night call with the Executive Board where emotions ran high. Not everyone was in favour of Montreal and Chicago being included — two teams who had infinitesimally small odds of reaching the playoffs under the traditional system.
Now they’ve each got a chance to get in by taking three-of-five games from an opponent that had a much better regular season. The Habs were 15 points behind Pittsburgh while the Blackhawks were 11 back of Edmonton, and they’re all essentially on equal footing.
Still, the Penguins voted in favour of this framework because they supported the greater good. And they weren’t the only ones.
“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” said Kris Letang, Pittsburgh’s NHLPA rep, in a Friday night conversation with Friedman. “But we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”
The vote essentially closes the book this season on the bottom seven teams: Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit.
Everyone else still has a chance to lift the Stanley Cup.
There’s still a lot more to do if the NHLPA approves a return to play format
May 22 2020
But for all the hope that comes with handicapping play-in matchups, there is considerable ground to cover before this concept becomes reality. Issues like securing enough testing capacity and agreeing to the safety protocols. Addressing player concerns about separation from families for a long period of time and determining which two cities will be used as return-to-play hubs. Getting somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 players back from Europe and seeing if every team will be able to hold a training camp in its own city.
And, while the discussions continue on all of those items, the NHL is still looking to put the wheels in motion on the next phase of its return-to-play plan by opening team facilities for small-group workouts.
The biggest question of all remains unanswered: When might all of this start?
There are those who believe — or hope — we might be seeing NHL games played by the end of July, but that’s not something the league or anyone else can say right now with certainty.
You’re probably sensing a trend here.
Perhaps that’s why Friday night’s vote was hailed by some as a significant step: Cast alongside this mountainous to-do list, it should lead to getting one big matter struck off.
We also have a clearer idea of what everything might look like if it’s ever safe enough or feasible enough to resume the pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley pulled no punches Thursday, lamenting the “zero leadership” south of the border as the U.S. is ravaged by racial unrest.
The longtime U.S. skipper took square aim at president Donald Trump.
“We have a president who is completely empty. There isn’t a moral bone in his body,” Bradley told a media conference call.
“There’s no leadership. There’s no leadership from the president, there’s no leadership from the Republican senators who have sat back and been totally complicit in everything he’s done for the last 3 1/2 years.”
“I just hope that people are able to go to the polls in November and think about more than just what is good for them, more than what is good for their own status, their own business, their own tax return. I hope that people can go to the polls and understand that in so many ways, the future of our country and the future of our democracy is at stake.
“We need as many people as possible to understand that at a real level, to think about what four more years with Trump as president, what that would mean, how terrible that would be for so many people.”
Referencing racial inequality and social injustice, Bradley added: “If we want any chance to start to fix those things, then Trump can’t be president, it’s as simple as that.”
The 32-year-old Bradley has run through the gamut of emotions while watching the violence and unrest unfold in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while three police officers restrained him — one with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“I’m angry, I’m horrified, I’m sad and I’m determined to do anything and everything I can to try to be a part of the fix,” he said. “Because it has to end. And we all have to be part of that fix.”
He acknowledged that while he has much to learn on the issues, politicians, policy-makers and businesses have to be held accountable.
“My man Mike is a as real as they come. Nothing but the truth here,” teammate Joze Altidore tweeted
Bradley has criticized Trump before. In January 2017, he said he was “sad and embarrassed” by Trump’s travel ban aimed at citizens of predominantly Muslim countries.
The TFC captain, while happy to see the MLS labour impasse over, noted there had been “some real difficult moments along the way.” That included a threat of a lockout from the league.
He also said there had been a frustrating absence of dialogue right from the beginning of talks, which he acknowledged played out against an unprecedented global threat.
“This, at a certain point for me, was about what’s right and what’s wrong in the middle of the pandemic. And the way to treat people and the way that you look after people. I kept coming back to that idea. That we have all put so much into growing the game in North America, at all levels — ownership, league office, executives coaches, players, fans.
“Everybody is important to what we’re trying to do. To try to dismiss any of the entities that I just named would be short-sighted and disrespectful because the game is about everybody.”
WATCH | MLS players ratify new agreement, return-to-play plan:
He said he would have loved to have seen everyone get on the same page early on and find a way “to cut through the [bull].”
“To just say ‘This is where we are right now. Nobody has a playbook. Nobody has any answers but how are we going to come out better and stronger from all of this? … I think conversations would have carried so much more weight and I think we would have been able to avoid so much of the way certain things played out.”
Bradley underwent ankle surgery in January to repair an injury suffered in the MLS Cup final loss in Seattle on Nov 10. His rehab over, he was part of a small group training session Thursday.
“I’m doing well,” he said. “I’m continuing to make progress … At this point physically I feel really good. My ankle feels really good. And now it’s just about training. Getting back into real training in a way that now prepares me for games.”
Still, he said injuries are an issue in the league’s return to play given the time that has passed since the league suspended play March 12.
“That is a big concern,” he said. “And it’s not a big concern only amongst players. I know that has been a real topic amongst coaches and sports science staff and medical staff.”
While teams will do everything possible to get the players ready, a compressed schedule at the Florida tournament that awaits teams won’t help injury fears, he said.
“That certainly is a big question. Maybe the biggest question when you get past the initial health and safety stuff of COVID, among players and coaches and technical staff,” he said.
“How are we going to give ourselves the best chance to win, but also do it in a way where guys are at their highest level both technically and physically”
NEW YORK – The National Hockey League announced today that it will transition to Phase 2 of its Return To Play Plan effective Monday, June 8.
Beginning June 8 – subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning. Phase 2 is not a substitute for training camp.
All necessary preparations for Phase 2, including those that require Player participation (education, diagnostic testing, scheduling for medicals, etc.), can begin immediately. The NHL and the NHLPA continue to negotiate over an agreement on the resumption of play.
NEW YORK — Baseball players reaffirmed their stance for full prorated pay, leaving a huge gap with teams that could scuttle plans to start the coronavirus-delayed season around the Fourth of July and may leave owners focusing on a schedule as short as 50 games.
More than 100 players, including the union’s executive board, held a two-hour digital meeting with officials of the Major League Baseball Players Association on Thursday, a day after the union’s offer was rejected by Major League Baseball.
“Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless players negotiate salary concessions,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon. This threat came in response to an association proposal aimed at charting a path forward.”
“Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless players agree to further salary reductions,” Clark added.
Players originally were set to earn about $4 billion in 2020 salaries, exclusive of guaranteed money such as signing bonuses, termination pay and option buyouts. The union’s plan would cut that to around $2.8 billion and management to approximately $1.2 billion plus a $200 million bonus pool if the post-season is completed.
MLB last week proposed an 82-game season with an additional sliding scale of pay cuts that would leave a player at the $563,500 minimum with 47% of his original salary and top stars Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole at less than 22% of the $36 million they had been set to earn.
Players countered Sunday with a plan for a 114-game regular season with no pay cuts beyond the prorated salaries they agreed to on March 26. That would leave each player with about 70% of his original pay.
MLB rejected that Wednesday, when Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer informing him “we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible.”
“Nonetheless, the commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020,” Halem said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans.”
Management officials have said they are considering a slate of perhaps 50 games or fewer. There has not been a schedule averaging fewer than 82 games per team since 1879.
“The overwhelming consensus of the board is that players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well,” Clark said in a statement. “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”
Baseball’s March 26 deal allows games if there are no government restrictions on playing in front of fans and no relevant travel limitations. The sides agreed to “discuss in good faith” the economic feasibility of playing in empty ballparks, which appears to be the likely option.
MLB says that without fans it would average a loss of $640,000 for each additional game played. The union disputes the teams’ financial figures.
Teams also worry about a second wave of the new coronavirus this fall and don’t want to play past October, fearing $787 million in broadcast revenue for the post-season could be lost. MLB proposed expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, which would generate additional broadcast rights to sell, and players have offered to guarantee the larger playoffs for both 2020 and 2021.
While baseball has reverted to the economic bickering that led to eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the NBA announced plans Thursday to resume its regular season with 22 teams on July 31, the NHL is moving ahead with plans for an expanded Stanley Cup playoffs this summer and MLS is planning to have teams return with a tournament in July.
“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, players want nothing more than to get back to work,” Clark said. “But we cannot do this alone.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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