The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives and livelihood of almost every person in the US. Precautions were taken, but some still got sick anyway. Early on there was talk of canceling all sporting events, but neither the players, nor the owners, nor the fans were going to let that happen. The NHL has been especially hard hit, and it just got hit again. It’s possible that the January start of the next season is in jeopardy.
Upcoming NHL Season Faces Delays
There is some doubt that the NHL will even be able to get it together for the scheduled starting date of January 1, 2021. Aside from the issues concerning COVID-19, there is a major disagreement going between the players union, the NHLPA, and the team owners concerning money. The league is requesting additional salary deferrals and an increase in the escrow cap that would send about $300 million back to the owners, who are almost all billionaires anyway. The players are not happy.
The owners and the players had just signed a new collective bargaining agreement back in July and now the owners want more to cover their losses due to playing games in empty stadiums. Perhaps they thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would be over and done with by now, but it did not work out that way. The players and their union are crying foul and there is continuing adamant, widespread opposition within the union to this request to change the terms of the CBA just agreed on and signed in July.
Now, just four months after negotiating a new six-year contract during the pandemic, which was taken into account back in July, anticipating potential economic distress created by the pandemic, the owners say that they cannot live by the deal. This is a claim and a request that is in unprecedented in any professional sport labor law history.
NHL Owners Back Away From Agreements
Under existing agreements, the players union was entitled to a 50/50 split on all hockey related revenues garnered during the season, but the current terms being offered by the owners would seem to eliminate that part of the deal. The players union and the league still must sit down together and come up with workable protocols concerning the health and safety of both the players and coaches down on the floor and the fans, if any, in the stands.
To date they have not been able to get past the financial negotiations to even discuss the important issues that the teams will be facing when the season gets underway and the COVID-19 pandemic is still upon us. The league and the union must work together to create contingencies within the schedule for postponements and for perhaps ranking the teams by percentages rather than points if all teams do not play the same number of games this season.
Now, the original starting date of January 1 and a 60-game season seems in jeopardy as negations have stalled and neither side wants to budge. A starting date during the third week of January and a 48-game season seems more likely to happen.
COVID-19 Hits NHL Teams
Compounding those issues is the revelation that two teams are dealing with COVID-19 issues. The Columbus Blue Jackets announced yesterday that the team has “several players” who have recently tested positive for the coronavirus, and that it is now taking additional precautions to prevent the outbreak from getting worse.
The Vegas Golden Knights have four players who have tested positive for COVID-19. These are now in self-isolation and the team hasn’t closed its practice facility, but it is putting all off-ice player areas in a “no-trespassing zone” for the time being. It might be smart to begin anticipating a delay in the start of the new NHL season.