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The NHLPA's Don Fehr on the Olympics, bubble life, coronavirus testing and more – ESPN



Last Friday, the NHL’s owners and the players approved a new collective bargaining agreement as well as the league’s return-to-play plan to finish out the 2019-20 season in two bubbles this summer. It’s six seasons of labor peace for a sport that hasn’t seen much of it over the last 30 years.

The bubbles exist for the same reason this CBA was ratified: The coronavirus and its economic impacts changed the math and shifted the timeline in these talks.

“We viewed the task as trying to identify the difficulties caused by the pandemic, certainly the immediate ones, but looking to the future, to figure out a way to address those issues. We had to do that in a way everybody could agree with — in negotiations, great ideas aren’t worth very much if the other side doesn’t go along with it — and then to set the stage for the recovery when things begin to return to normal,” said Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association.

“This is probably not something that a lot of people are going to call a perfect agreement. A lot of people are going to find faults with one thing or another. That’s always the case. And I’m pretty sure there’s going to be unanticipated events and perhaps even unintended consequences. But I do think this agreement meets the challenge, and the next challenge is going to be to implement it both in the short-term and in the long-term, and there’s a lot in this agreement, I think, players can be proud of.”

We spoke with Fehr on Sunday about the CBA, a return to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026 (pending an IOC deal with the NHL), player medical privacy concerns with COVID-19 testing, what next season will look like and whether this, in fact, is his last negotiation as NHLPA chief.

ESPN: The Olympics agreement seems like a huge victory for the players because this is something they were really passionate about. Can you take us through how it came to be — how much of a priority was it, or a sticking point was it for the players to get something in writing?

Fehr: We had ongoing discussions with the NHL about the importance of the Olympics, both in terms of the players’ desire to play, what it means to them to be able to play for their country, and in our view what the marketing advantages could be. We had some ongoing discussions with IIHF and the IOC about that. We thought they’d been progressing well. The NHL wasn’t as satisfied. But as we got into this process after having missed Korea, it was basically this has to be in an agreement. And at some point, the NHL, I don’t remember exactly when, understood that that was the case.

As a matter of fact, one of the reasons the extension is four years is that it sweeps in the 2026 Olympic Games. Our initial proposal was that it only be a three-year extension. And after that point, which was some months ago, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about it. It was just sort of assumed. Bear in mind, though, that we still do have to reach agreement with the IOC and the IIHF, although in my own view, that will take some work but we should be able to get it done without major difficulty.

ESPN: The NHL had talked about the Olympics being tied to a larger international calendar of events, like the World Cup of Hockey, but there was nothing in the CBA about that. Were you surprised the Olympics got done without needing that?

Fehr: I think the answer to that is no. I was not surprised because trying to focus on the longer international calendar in the midst of COVID-19 was not a front-burner item for us, for obvious reasons. That being said, I do expect we’re going to end up with a longer international calendar. I do expect we’re going to end up with World Cups on a regular basis, and all the rest of that. It’s just not contained in writing in this agreement.

ESPN: Other pro sports leagues have talked about salary adjustments as a reaction to COVID-19 revenue losses, and NHL owners have used salary rollbacks and compliance buyouts in the past to deal with large contracts. How did you avoid a salary rollback or buyouts in this deal?

Fehr: Once it became clear that what we were looking at was not reducing the cap, it was not something that was necessary. It never came up. If somehow we had been looking at reducing the cap to $65 million, which is roughly what it would have been if we didn’t have this agreement and we were going just based on revenues, then it would have arisen. If you think about it from the owners’ standpoint, it’s [about] the total dollar cost that’s involved, which is more important than the individual player costs. And the cap goes up and down, in theory.

ESPN: What did you tell pending free agents about the flat cap next season, and maybe the following season?

Fehr: That it’s going to be tough, but if the cap had crashed to the mid-60s, it would have been a lot worse.

ESPN: Escrow is always an issue for players. You made some improvements to escrow in this agreement, including capping it, but is there a chance in the future that there could ever be a total financial restructuring? Or can players always expect to have an escrow system?

Fehr: Well, I’ve got several answers. The first one is that my brain hasn’t gone into future gear yet.

But I guess I would explain it this way. I’m going to explain it in a very neutral, sort of academic way. If management wants to negotiate with the union wages, but not individual wages — either because they don’t think it’s a good idea or they don’t think the union are going to agree to it — because normally, in a union-management contract, you have wages covered. You’re Joe Jones and you slot in this particular place, and that’s that. If they’re going to negotiate an overall wage bill — whether it’s a hard dollar amount, whether it’s a percentage of revenues, whether it’s any other number — and then you’re going to have a system which allows variance on the individual teams for their portion of that bill can be higher or lower by some degree or all the rest of it, you have to have a mechanism to balance the books, otherwise it doesn’t work.

So now let me fast forward to your question: Would you see it ever changing? I’ve been doing this, you know, forever, basically since Moses walked the Earth. I was present during the initial baseball free agency stuff. I was the lawyer in Kansas City who shepherded the free-agency cases through the courts. There weren’t any free markets in baseball back then, it was a completely closed market. It wasn’t a cap, they just had the old fashioned reserve system. And that changed. And there had been periodic fights in baseball about that, and there are rumors there’s going to be another one coming up in the next negotiation [in MLB] in a year and a half. Every league and every negotiation is different based on the time, the circumstances, the dynamic in and all the rest. So, I don’t ever say “never” about anything. I think it’s possible. Is it likely? I think that’ll depend on what the economics are and the mood of the players.

Let me throw one other thing at you; this is important, too. And that is the single biggest determinant of the player salaries is not the system. It’s not whether you have a salary cap at 50 percent [of hockey-related revenue] or you don’t. It’s what the revenue number is. That’s significantly more important than the percentage.

ESPN: What was the players’ ultimate input on return-to-play protocols? In particular, on the selection of Toronto and Edmonton as the hub cities? Was it one-sided? Collaborative?

Fehr: It was collaborative. [Pauses] I hate that word, because it doesn’t capture the process very well. There was a professional working relationship that included players and club officials. It included highly respected physicians on both sides. It included ongoing discussions with local health authorities. The reason you wait to make decisions is partially because the speed of events was so fast that it was hard to be confident about the choices you make in March for what you were going to do in the middle of July or August. It wasn’t easy.

Was there any hostility? I guess the best I can tell you is that the choices weren’t easy and when to make them wasn’t easy, but there wasn’t any discord in the process of doing it. We just talked it through. This is where we go to. There wasn’t much disagreement about it.

ESPN: How will the beginning of next season be determined? Will the NHLPA have to agree upon it, and negotiate health and safety protocols?

Fehr: First, we know we’re going to start late. The odds on that are overwhelming. We still think we can get a full season in if we do some manipulations with what the schedule would otherwise be without going too far ahead of that. And that’s certainly the goal.

Secondly, the precise dating on it and the rest of it is yet to be determined. Third, there will very likely have to be health and safety protocols put in place because we hope we are going to be back to playing out of the home arenas. So the answer to that, yes. Those have yet to be negotiated. I am assuming that that’s going to be easier to do than it was the first time, because we now have prototypes in place.

ESPN: What would you say to those who think positive tests for players should be disclosed like any other injury or illness? Or that since these names might come out anyway, that not releasing them puts teammates or teams in a bad spot?

Fehr: Essentially in this country, what we believe in is that certain medical things are private unless somebody chooses to make them public. That’s difficult to maintain in an industry like ours, but you do the best you can across the board. Somebody saying they have the right to know … legally, they probably don’t.

For example, in your job, suppose we’re back in the old-fashioned newspaper days. You’re at the city desk with 77 other people in the room with typewriters, and you had to leave and do something for a while. People didn’t have a right to anything except that you were gone. They probably know you were gone for a medical reason, but whether it was cancer or a drug rehab or someone in your family was sick, it was none of their business unless you told them. Now, if you had a communicable disease, they would have contact traced everyone you were in contact with.

ESPN: With due respect, no one is betting on my performance at the typewriter. There will be wagering on NHL playoff games, which is something the league has encouraged. There’s a perception that a concussion or a knee injury is one thing, but a disease where the rest of the team can be infected is on a different level.

Fehr: We’ll have to face that when we come to it. But if the people who are betting on games think the information is insufficient to make a bet, they shouldn’t bet.

ESPN: How confident are you that players are going to be satisfied with the experience in the bubble, and we’re not going to see reports of less-than-promised conditions regarding food or accommodation that we’ve seen with some other leagues?

Fehr: Well, I think the fact that the NBA photos came out will help prevent that. The proof will be in the pudding when we get there. But I’m reasonably satisfied we’ll be able to do that. We’ve been talking from the beginning about creating bubble atmospheres and bringing in what somebody — maybe Steve Mayer at the NHL — called pop-up restaurants from people that really know what they’re doing.

I’m not terribly concerned about that. In these circumstances, you do the best you can. But I’m certainly hopeful that that will not be an issue. If it is an issue, you’ll hear about it more than once.

ESPN: We asked Gary Bettman this on Saturday, so we’ll ask you: Is there a threshold of positive tests in return to play that you think would necessitate a reconsideration of it?

Fehr: Yes, when my doctors tell me that it’s something that we have to think about, and that something has happened that they think is severe enough that it raises that issue. That’s how we’re going to handle it. Look, neither Gary nor I have the kind of medical or public health training that’s necessary to make those kinds of judgements. We have to rely on the experts to tell us what to do. The NHL has its own doctors. We have Dr. John Rizos [NHLPA medical consultant], who’s been with us for years. We have Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, who’s about as good as they come. We’re going to rely on them to tell us what to do.

ESPN: Finally, we now have labor peace for the next six seasons. Was this your last rodeo? Or do you think you’ll be at the negotiating table again for the next CBA?

Fehr: Do they have a fountain of youth drug yet? [Laughs] The answer is I don’t know. I’ll be 72 on July 18. As we go through this, I’m going to have to figure out what makes sense. I expect to be around for a while.

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Alphonso Davies named Canadian men’s player of the year –



Alphonso Davies, who drew worldwide acclaim while helping Bayern Munich fill its trophy case in a remarkable 2020, has been named Canadian Men’s Player of the Year.

The 20-year-old from Edmonton also captured the award in 2018, then the youngest-ever winner of the men’s award at age 18. He was named Canada’s U-17 Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017.

Canada Soccer, which will announce the women’s award winner on Friday, said Davies earned a record vote total from Canadian media and coaches, finishing just ahead of Christine Sinclair’s record set in 2012.

News of the men’s award comes the same day that Davies, now a fixture at left back for the German champions, returned to first-team training after tearing ankle ligaments in Bayern’s 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in late October.

“To see what Alphonso Davies has accomplished this year is awe-inspiring for the next generation of players,” Canada coach John Herdman said in a statement. “His achievements have raised the flag in our sport higher than anyone else in our lifetime on the men’s side of the game and he has helped put this country as a football country on the world map.

Converted to fullback by Bayern, Davies has turned heads with his speed and ability to create attacks. Bayern veteran Thomas Mueller dubbed him the Bayern Road Runner after the pacey cartoon character.

In June, Davies was named Bundesliga rookie of the year in voting by fans, clubs and the media. Kicker magazine, a German sports magazine that focuses mainly on football, included him in its Bundesliga team of the season.

This week ESPN ranked Davies as the second-best left fullback in the world, behind Liverpool’s Andy Robertson.

He was third in voting for the Golden Boy award won by Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. The annual award, run by Italian newspaper Tuttosport, honours the best young player in Europe.

And he was shortlisted as a nominee for UEFA’s Team of the Year and Defender of the Year,

Davies shone on the biggest stage.

In an 8-2 beatdown of Barcelona in Champions League quarterfinal play in August, he set up Bayern’s fifth goal in the 63rd minute with a sensational run down the left flank. Davies beat three Barca players, befuddling Portuguese international Nelson Semedo before racing past several more defenders into the penalty box and sending a perfect pass to Joshua Kimmich to slot in from close range.

“That was unbelievable,” Kimmich said later. “Even I was a bit ashamed when I celebrated. He gets 99 per cent of the credit for the goal. I only had to get the ball over the line.”

Davies, who turned 20 on Nov. 2, also excelled in Bayern’s 3-0 win at Chelsea in the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie in late February. Davies made a lightning run down the left flank and crossed to Robert Lewandowski for a tap-in in the 76th minute.

“Alphonso Davies’ parents fled Liberia in the civil war. He was born in a refugee camp in Ghana and moved to Canada when he was five. Here he is playing beautifully for Bayern at 19. What a wonderful story,” former England striker Gary Lineker, now an analyst with BBC Sport, posted on Twitter.

“Alphonso Davies is a world-class left back,” added former U.S. international Stuart Holden. “Top five in world soccer right now easy.”

The six-foot, 165-pound Davies set a Bundesliga speed record out in a 1-0 win at Werder Bremen that earned the Bavarian powerhouse an eighth straight league title. He was clocked at 36.51 km/h in the first half against Bremen, according to the Bundesliga. That erased the fastest recorded speed in league history (36.19 km/h by Dortmund’s Achraf Hakimi) since detailed data collection began in 2011.

In 2020, Davies has helped Bayern to the Champions League and Bundesliga titles, the DFB Cup, UEFA Super Cup and DFL-Supercup. He is the first Canadian male to lift the Champions League trophy.

Covering the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons from January through October 2020, Davies featured in 33 matches and scored two goals and six assists. Along the way, he was chosen Canada Soccer’s Player of the Month in February, July and August as well as FC Bayern’s Player of the Month and the Bundesliga’s Rookie of the Month in May.

The young Canadian international joined Bayern from the Vancouver Whitecaps in a then-MLS record US$22-million transfer. The deal was done in July 2018 but Davies finished out the MLS season before joining Bayern in January 2019.

In April, he signed a contract extension with Bayern that will keep him with the German champions through June 2025.

Davies has won 17 caps for Canada, with five goals and seven assists. Off the pitch, he has attracted a huge social media following with 3.1 million followers, 2.9 million on TikTok. on Instagram and 233,000 on Twitter.

A former refugee, Davies became a Supporter of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees this year, using his platforms and his public profile to raise awareness and fundraise in support of refugees.

“Alphonso has to be commended for his passion and spirit with which he plays, but also for his ability to connect with people off the field,” said Herdman. “He is a real ambassador for our sport in Canada and on the global stage.”

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Why adult sports in B.C. are shut down, but kids can keep playing – CTV News Vancouver



From hockey to soccer, curling and even bowling, nearly all adult sports have been suspended in B.C. 

“A lot of these adult team sports are as much social gatherings as they are sport,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday. “It’s the going for a coffee or a beer after a game that has been the most (common) source of transmission. But sometimes it’s very difficult, because a lot of that is built into the culture of many of the adult team sports.”

Henry says kids’ sports don’t have the same history of COVID-19 transmission, so they’re allowed to continue, but players can only practice with their teams. No games are being held and there is no travel between jurisdictions.

“We are hoping we can preserve, safely, those opportunities for young people without the riskier parts of what they’re doing around playing games and travel,” said Henry.

The Adult Safe Hockey League is one of the largest organizations impacted by the adult sports shutdown. Its 400 teams play out of three Canlan Ice Sports facilities in Burnaby, Langley and North Vancouver, and they just resumed full-game play last week.

“It’s frustrating for our hockey players, those that come to play, they need an outlet,” said Canlan Ice Sports executive vice president Mike Gellard.

He said Canlan facilities have done everything they can can to keep players and staff safe, including plexiglass dividers on the bench and strict time limits in dressing rooms. But he recognizes pre-and post game gatherings can be an issue.

“It’s not the on ice where the risk is,” said Gellard. “The biggest part of an adult hockey game was having a beer after the game in a room. Well, obviously that doesn’t happen anymore. Where they go after the game, we really can’t control that.”

The owner of Scottsdale Lanes is disappointed bowling is included in the adult sports ban. Families can still drop in to play with the members of their household bubble, but adult league games have been suspended.

“Our leagues are totally our bread and butter,” Ken Clarke said. “If we don’t have our leagues, it’s questionable whether it’s even worth being open. I would say 80 per cent of our revenue is league-based revenue.”

Children’s bowling leagues can continue, and kids can keep practicing with their sports teams. Dance studios have also been allowed to reopen, but again, for children’s programs only.

With all adult hockey programs now cancelled, Canlan Ice Sports facilities will be nearly empty at what is normally a very busy time of year.

“We’re going to have a lot of open ice, so if you want to buy some ice, give us a call,” Gellard said.

As for when the adult teams could return?

“The only way we’re going to be able to reopen is if COVID numbers get better and the vaccine starts to get distributed,” he said. “So I think we are in this for a little bit longer.” 

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NHL 'taking our time' planning for start of 2020-21 season –



The NHL is planning for what could be an unusual 2020-21 season with the goal of returning to normal in 2021-22.

The League has targeted Jan. 1, 2021 for the start of this season. 

“That is a work in progress, influenced largely by what we’re hearing from the medical experts, and we talk to some pretty highly placed people without name-dropping,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday.

“COVID[-19] is going through a second wave, which could be worse than the first wave, and between Thanksgiving and the aftermath and what they think is going to happen for Christmas and the aftermath, we are taking our time and making sure that as we look for ways to move forward we’re focused on health and safety and doing the right things.”

Commissioner Bettman made the comments in an online interview during Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers in Sports conference.

The Commissioner said the NHL Players’ Association would sign off on a training camp of appropriate length, which might be slightly shorter than past seasons. Teams probably would want to play a preseason game or two, he said.

Based on what the NHL is being told by medical experts, particularly regarding the availability of vaccines to the general public, Commissioner Bettman said arenas could be full in 2021-22, when the Seattle Kraken begin play as an expansion team.

“I think this is perhaps the most important thing,” the Commissioner said. “What we’re focused on is trying to get through the ’20-21 season so that we can be back in position for ’21-22 to normalcy. … We are hopeful and optimistic based on everything we’re hearing that we can look at normalcy by the time we get to ’21-22 whatever happens this season.”

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL has not asked the NHLPA to renegotiate the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement after the League and union announced a four-year extension July 10 that takes the agreement through 2025-26.

The Commissioner said the NHL and NHLPA are discussing short-term issues and the long-term economic impact.

Short-term issues include what the season will look like; whether teams will play in home arenas, hubs or a hybrid; and potential for temporary divisional realignment.

The Canada-United States border is closed to nonessential travel, and Canada has said it will remain so until the pandemic is under control. Commissioner Bettman said even if NHL teams could cross, the issue of quarantine remains.

“If you’re playing a regular schedule of games, you can’t quarantine players for 14 days as you’re moving in and out of the country, which is why, among the other issues that are going to impact a possible season, is we literally would have to realign and create a situation where maybe the teams in Canada only play each other, and we have to realign the way all of our teams are playing competitively,” the Commissioner said.

“It’s part of the myriad of issues that we’re dealing with, which is why when people say, ‘Oh, well, they’re trying to renegotiate,’ the answer to all of this is, we’ve got a lot of issues and a lot of problems to deal with, and the system is going to be stressed for everyone. And is there an appetite for working through all of those issues?”

The owners and the players split hockey-related revenue 50-50 under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. A portion of players’ salaries is held in escrow during the accounting process. The extension capped escrow, starting at 20 percent for 2020-21 and descending to 6 percent by 2023-24.

The NHL salary cap is tied to hockey-related revenue under the teams of the collective bargaining agreement as well. It will remain at $81.5 million until hockey-related revenue surpasses $3.3 billion, according to the extension.

It is unclear how many fans, if any, could attend games in 2020-21. Governmental limits on gatherings for public events vary from market to market.

“Whatever the revenues are, the players only get 50 percent,” Commissioner Bettman said. “And if we overpay them and they don’t pay us back in the short term, they have to pay us back over time. There will be stresses on the system, and we’ve had discussions about what those stresses are and how they might be dealt with, but we’re not trying to say you must do X, Y and Z. We’re trying to look for ways to continue to work together.

“I know it’s being portrayed as something else, and it’s unfortunate and it’s inaccurate, because at the end of the day, if the system gets stressed, it’s going to be stressed for both of us.

“If we have to pay out lots of cash, two-thirds of which is going to come back to us, that may cause some stress, but we’ll have to deal with it if we’re going to move forward. And by the same token, if the players owe us more money than anybody imagined, the salary cap could be flat or close to flat for the next five or six years, and players into the future will be repaying what we’re owed.

“So the [situation] isn’t like, well, we demand a renegotiation. To the contrary, it’s we see the way the system is going to be impacted. Is it something that makes sense to deal with in the context of everything else that we may have to do, which is out of the ordinary and unanticipated, in order to be in a position to possibly play?”

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