By Patrick Kelly
After two straight CBA negotiations led to a full season and a half season being canceled, as the expiration of the new CBA was approaching, the NHL and NHLPA made sure to be on top of it. Friday night, they announced not only the approval of phases 3 and 4 of the return to play this year, but also agreed to an extension of the CBA will extend it through the 2025-2026 season. In addition, the NHL made another massive step for the game, returning NHL players to the Olympics for the 2022 and 2026 Games in Beijing, China and Milan, Italy, respectively.
The NHL’s commitment to help grow the game in the U.S. and beyond has been impeccable, especially during the pandemic. The NHL seemed to be the first league to put forward definitive plans for the resumption of the season and arguably have the most entertaining setup aside from perhaps the MLS tournament. The NHL also announced the schedule for the teams in the round robin and the best-of-five series. The latter series may be the most entertaining part of sports coming back. The NHL hasn’t had five-game series’ since the 1987 season when the oldest player in the NHL, Zdeno Chara, was only 10-years- old. The majority of the NHL wasn’t even born when that was in place and it should be very entertaining to see how an added sense of urgency affects teams along with the fact that they have had well over a month to prepare for their opponent, something unheard of for sports.
The first games will start on Aug. 1 with the Blues’ first round-robin game taking place on Aug. 2 against the Colorado Avalanche, who sit just behind the Blues in second place in the Western Conference. The Blues’ next game will be Aug. 6 against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blues wrap up the round robin with a game on Aug. 9 against the Dallas Stars before their fate is decided for the first round of action.
All Western Conference games will take place in Edmonton with the East playing in Toronto for the first two rounds, with the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final taking place in Edmonton. The NHL hopes to have The Cup awarded by October 4 at the latest. Free agency will start seven days after the Final ends, which means the draft and free agency could both open on the draft’s start date of October 9.
Perhaps the most long-term effect of the pandemic across all sports is the salary cap. The NHL agreed to keep the cap flat at $81.5 million for the 2020-2021 season. What the cap does from there depends on how the NHL generates revenue over the next year. Once they reach $4.8 billion in revenue, it’s believed that the cap could start going up again. The fact that Seattle will be entering the league as well may help boost the cap a bit thanks to the expansion fee.
For hockey fans, the past two months couldn’t have gone better given the circumstances. The NHL was determined from the get-go to award the Stanley Cup and not add a third blank spot on Lord Stanley. As talks picked up, the rumor of the CBA being renewed started gaining steam with added speculation that the Olympics would be part of the agreement. The NHL has said for years how they want to expand the game to different audiences and they seem to be on the right track.