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Are NHL coaches worried about players breaking the postseason bubbles?

John Tortorella gathered around his Columbus Blue Jackets for their first day of training camp in the NHL’s restarted season. The famously direct coach explained what he expected from them under the league’s COVID-19 “return to play” protocols.

“We don’t want a bunch of drama. We’re trying to win a Stanley Cup,” Tortorella said. “We understand the circumstances, and we should be honored that we’re playing right now.”

The Blue Jackets are one of 24 postseason participants moving into two “hub” cities starting Sunday, ahead of Stanley Cup playoff games being played inside two empty arenas. Toronto hosts the Eastern Conference and Edmonton hosts the Western Conference, and eventually, the conference and Stanley Cup finals. The postseason games are the fourth and final phase of the NHL’s restart plan, and by far its most restrictive: daily testing for everyone inside the “bubbles” where teams will live, practice and play; strict quarantines for those who test positive; and restrictions on how and where players can enjoy their down time, as they are prohibited from leaving the bubbles without permission.

But the biggest change for the players in Phase 4? Consequences for violating those protocols. Potentially very harsh consequences.

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Players who leave the secure zone without permission might be subject to consequences up to and including the removal from the bubble; or in other cases, strict quarantines of up to 10-14 days. But there are also potential penalties for teams whose players violate rules of the bubble, with a threat of fines and loss of draft picks.

“We want to make sure that people are taking it seriously. We want to ensure the protocols are being observed. We certainly outline penalties for people who are in violation of those protocols, up to and including expulsion from the bubble. And if you’re not in the bubble, you can’t play the games,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet last week. “We’re trying to keep everyone in the bubble as safe as they can be. For that to happen, people need to take stuff seriously.”

The question is who makes sure that the players take these protocols seriously?

Tortorella, for one.

“We had a very strong and pointed conversation about this before we even went on the ice. About how we’re going to handle ourselves. Out of respect for not only yourself, but the people around you. People with families and everything that comes with it. As we see, these cases keep growing,” Tortorella told ESPN.

Some NHL coaches have indicated that they’ll take an active role in ensuring the protocols are followed, while acknowledging the players’ personal accountability here. “We stressed their responsibility and everyone’s responsibility. I’m very confident moving forward. I think the NHL has done a very good job with the protocol, and now it’s our jobs as teams to get to the bubble and get the opportunity to play,” Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said.

With the Blue Jackets having one of the youngest starting lineups of any team in the postseason, Tortorella said enforcing the protocols falls on the hockey operations department as well as the players.

“We have a very young hockey club. A lot of single guys. It’s certainly a concern. Let’s face it: This is a worldwide pandemic. It’s a health situation which is separate from hockey. So we have to worry about the safety of these athletes first. But they do have to help themselves,” he said. “It’s going to be a little bit of both. I’m going to respect the older guys on the team. There’s not many, but they have come to me and said they want to take control of this a little bit when they come to the hub city. We will watch it.”

Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer, on the other hand, is coaching one of the most experienced groups in the playoffs.

“I don’t see any situations where chaperoning [is needed] with this group,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got a veteran team. They know what’s at stake. These guys have been skating in Vegas for five weeks, with the Strip 10 miles away and cases starting to climb on a daily basis. They’ve shown the maturity to make the right decisions. I have total trust in our group of players.”

Nashville Predators coach John Hynes has faith that the players are the ones best suited to ensure the protocols are followed. “Our players are talking about it. If you look around at the articles being written, the players have been outspoken that it’s on [the players] to police themselves,” he said.

“I don’t see any situations where chaperoning [is needed] with this group,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL received good news this week: Out of the 2,618 tests administered to more than 800 players, there were only two new positive COVID-19 tests. Hynes says he believes that success in Phase 3 portends good things for Phase 4.

“We’re all relying on each other. I think they’re going through those protocols now, because this is probably more dangerous a time because you’re not held as accountable as you will be inside the bubble, because you’re on your own,” Hynes said.

“I think it’s going to be a big factor for everyone, having the teams police themselves. And we have to educate the players as best we can so that they understand what they can or can’t do. I don’t think there will be a lot of problems with NHL players. Once you get in that competitive situation, I’m sure they’ll police themselves the right way.”

With the NHL on pause since March 12, the league and players’ association have come up with a return-to-play format featuring 24 teams.

• Details on the return-to-play plan
• Guide to all 24 postseason teams
• Latest updates from around the NHL

Some players, however, believe that common sense is going to supersede any “policing” of one another as the teams enter Phase 4 on Sunday.

“We’ve had conversations, but I don’t foresee having to tell anyone not to do something stupid, like go to a club during the playoffs. I don’t think that’s even on our radar,” said Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, in his 11th NHL season. “From the sound of it, our space is going to be very defined as far as spaces we can go to and spaces we can’t. Me personally and our team, I think we know the focus that’s needed throughout that time so that those distractions won’t be a problem. But it’s an open conversation that we will have when we have those defined rules on our team space or an open-air park or stuff like that.”

Defenseman Keith Yandle of the Florida Panthers agreed. “Honestly, I don’t think that’s an issue at all. Obviously we’ve touched on it, but it goes without saying that we’re there for a reason. We’re there to play hockey. We’ve got a group of guys that know we have to win games, so that’s the least of our worries going into this.”

Mark Stone of the Golden Knights said that off-ice player discipline is something inherent in the playoffs, regardless of the pandemic protocols this postseason.

“Playoffs are a different animal, right? You go out on the road, you’re in the hotel, you’re hanging out together. I guess the only difference is that you don’t get to see your family, which is going to be tough on guys. But [the family] isn’t going to be in the city, so that’s not going to be difficult,” Stone said. “What’s more fun than hanging out with your buddies every day, playing hockey? I don’t think there’s going to be an internal issue with that.”

Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski take you around the NHL with the latest news, big questions and special guests every episode. Listen here »

To that end, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville has a theory. The coach with the second-highest number of playoff games behind the bench in history — 215, second to Scotty Bowman (353) — says he believes that watching hockey is going to be the distraction that hockey players need to remain in the bubble.

“I think the entire league that’s going [to the bubble] has some awareness about what the down time is going to look like. But we’re going to see six hockey games a day. If you’re playing that day, obviously, you won’t have as many to see. But I think the theme is that everybody is going to be watching games and enjoying it. I think that’s going to be the most time-consuming thing,” Quenneville said.

If all else fails, there’s perhaps the ultimate motivation for a player under the protocols: Staying healthy, staying compliant and thus staying on the ice for this unprecedented months-long tournament for the Stanley Cup.

“We’re here,” Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason said, “we might as well win.”

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NHL announces only 2 positive coronavirus tests since camps opened

The National Hockey League released its first COVID-19 test results since training camps opened on July 13 and the numbers were encouraging, as only two players had tested positive.

The NHL concluded the first five days of testing from Phase 3 of its return-to-play protocol from July 13 to 17. The league said that 2,618 tests were administered to more than 800 players, returning only two positive COVID-19 tests. Both players had self-isolated and are following the protocols set forth by the CDC and Health Canada. The timeline for a return to the team greatly varies if the player was symptomatic or asymptomatic.

Players in Phase 3 are tested every other day, along with daily checks for fever and symptoms.

The NHL announced the results Monday.

NHL statement on COVID-19 testing results: pic.twitter.com/C137laTvbH

— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) July 20, 2020

Per NHL policy, the identity of these players was not revealed. As part of the return-to-play protocols voted on by the league and the NHLPA, the NHL is handling all news about injuries and COVID-19 diagnoses.

Players who are missing from training camp are labeled “unfit to play,” and teams are forbidden to elaborate on the reasons for their absence. There were many more players deemed “unfit to play” than tested positive through July 17. In some cases, players were held out of the lineup out of concern for “secondary exposure” to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, as the Pittsburgh Penguins did with nine players on July 13.

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The Phase 3 results are encouraging and trending in the right direction. Last week, the NHL released information about its COVID-19 test results for Phase 2, which included the reopening of team training facilities for informal workouts. There were 4,934 tests given to these players, with 30 positive results. In addition, the league said 13 players outside of the Phase 2 protocol tested positive.

The 24 teams taking part in the NHL postseason are scheduled to move their training camps to two “hub” cities in Canada — Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the Western Conference — on July 26. The NHL is going to utilize a touchless biometric identification system to take players’ temperatures and track health information in Toronto and Edmonton.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification and round-robin rounds will begin on Aug. 1.

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NHL restart arena Rogers Place suffers water damage in storm

Rogers Place in Edmonton — one of the two arenas the NHL is using as a hub to restart its season this summer — suffered water damage Thursday night as a significant storm came through the city.

In a statement, Oilers Entertainment Group said it was assessing the damage and “at this time are confident that it will not hamper our planning and preparation and we will be ready to host the return of NHL hockey as hub city.”

Western Conference teams are scheduled to travel to Edmonton on July 26, with exhibition games beginning July 28 and meaningful games beginning Aug. 1. Edmonton also will host the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals, absorbing the remaining Eastern Conference teams, which are beginning the restart in Toronto.

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According to arena management, the initial damage was in the “terminus of Ford Hall,” which is a foyer off the entry way, as well as “some other leaks in other parts of the building.”

The NHL had narrowed its list to 10 potential hub cities but ended up selecting two in Canada — snubbing Las Vegas, a rumored favorite — because it felt more comfortable staging games in areas where the coronavirus was under better control. Edmonton has had only 15 COVID-19 deaths since the NHL paused March 12.

Rogers Place is only 4 years old. The NHL is creating an “Olympic village”-type setup in a district around the arena. Teams are staying at a hotel connected to Rogers Place and other walkable hotels. It is unclear whether the hotels also sustained damage in the storm.

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NHL to use fan videos with team-specific cheers

NHL players will hear fans chanting, “We want the Cup!” during their postseason tournament — just not in person.

The league’s teams began emailing season-ticket holders over the weekend, asking them to record 30-second clips of cheering for their players. The clips will be used during games played in empty arenas inside the Toronto and Edmonton “hub cities,” as well as on broadcasts and through NHL social media channels.

The emails include guidelines from the NHL on best practices for filming, including location, sound quality and shot composition. They also discuss how to dodge potential trademark and copyright violations by “avoiding the appearance of paintings, posters, professional photography or any other art in the background” as well as avoiding “wearing apparel that shows any brands” other than those of the NHL and its teams.

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Fans who submit videos must also sign and submit an electronic waiver for every person featured in the clip.

ESPN reviewed emails sent to ticket holders for the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, asking for video submissions. They asked for clapping “Let’s go” cheers that you’d hear at home games, “We want the Cup!” chants and sound that can be used when a goal is scored.

“For this, for the first three seconds, you should pretend that you are anticipating the goal, and then explode into your celebration,” said the email, asking for 30 seconds of cheering for that goal. Fans were also given specific requests for chants from their teams.

• Bruins fans were asked to chant “TUUUUUUUUKKKKKKK,” for when goalie Tuukka Rask makes a save. They were also asked for a 30-second video of “how you’d dance to ‘Shipping Up to Boston,'” the Dropkick Murphys’ song heard at home games, although they were told not to sing the song or play it in the background. Bruins fans were also asked for 30 seconds of “booing or reacting to a bad call,” with the explicit instruction not to use any “bad words/hand gestures, please.”

• Rangers fans were asked to chant the first names of all three goaltenders who might see action in the postseason, as well as “Bread-man!” for star winger Artemi Panarin.

• Blackhawks fans were asked for 30 seconds of a “slow clap” as well as “30 seconds of how you act/cheer during the National Anthem at a home game,” a tradition at home games.

• Avalanche fans were asked for 30 seconds of holding up and moving around their cell phone light “to replicate in-arena when your team takes the ice for the third period,” as well as “three takes of the ‘Woo Woo!’ sound that you make after the Avalanche scores a goal at home.”

• Panthers fans were asked for clips of them yelling “Red!” during the national anthem and “Goal!” when a goal is announced, as they traditionally do at home games.

• Flames fans were asked for clips of them yelling “Sea!” and “Red!” during the U.S. national anthem and 15 seconds of chanting “Oi!” during the AC/DC song “TNT.”

• Winnipeg Jets fans were asked for “10-30 seconds of telling us why you are proud to be a Winnipegger and ending with passionate statements of ‘WE ARE WINNIPEG!'”

The NHL and the NHLPA approved both a “return to play” plan and an extension of their collective bargaining agreement on Friday. The season is scheduled to restart in the Toronto and Edmonton “bubbles” beginning on Aug. 1 with a 24-team tournament. The top four seeds in each conference play in a round robin, while the other eight teams play in five-game qualification-round series.

The use of prerecorded crowd noise has been commonplace in European soccer’s restarted season, while videos of football fans were shown during the NFL draft.

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Stars’ Roman Polak, Canucks’ Sven Baertschi opt out of NHL return

Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak and Vancouver Canucks forward Sven Baertschi on Saturday joined the list of players who won’t be reporting to training camp for the resumption of the NHL season.

Baertschi, who has spent much of this season in the minors and is under contract through 2020-21, told the Canucks he’d be opting out of participating in the expanded 24-team playoffs.

“Sven informed us late yesterday that he has chosen to opt out of the NHL return-to-play program,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “It was a difficult decision but ultimately one we respect and understand.”

Due to concerns and risks of Covid-19 to my family, I made the difficult decision to opt out of the 2020 playoffs. I wish all of my teammates success.

— Sven Baertschi (@SvenBaertschi) July 11, 2020

Polak is not on the Stars’ roster for the start of training camp Monday, and a team spokesman said the 34-year-old veteran won’t be attending at this time. Polak is a pending free agent who last month agreed to a deal in his native Czech Republic for next season and told reporters there he wasn’t planning on returning to the NHL if play resumed.

Players have until Monday to inform their teams whether they are opting out. As part of the NHL and NHLPA’s agreements, players will not be punished if they choose not to play this summer, and they do not need to cite a specific reason.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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NHL memo put to vote features Dec. 1 start for 2020-21 season

The NHL is targeting Dec. 1 as the start of the 2020-21 season, according to a memorandum of understanding obtained by ESPN that is being voted on by NHL players. The league’s board of governors also must approve it.

The NHL Players’ Association on Wednesday began a full membership vote on a four-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement and on return-to-play protocols. Results are expected Friday.

The critical dates in the memorandum of understanding are all tentative and could be pushed back, including:

The Stanley Cup Final will begin Sept. 20 and end no later than Oct. 2

The 2020 NHL draft will be held Oct. 6

Training camps for the 2020-21 season will begin Nov. 17

The NHL is keen on awarding a Stanley Cup this summer. Training camps for the 24-team tournament are scheduled to open on Monday, with teams traveling to the hub cities — Edmonton and Toronto — on July 26. If all goes according to plan, games will begin Aug. 1.

Sources told ESPN that the NHL is planning to have three games a day in each of the hub cities, with the first games starting at noon local time. That means six games a day during the qualification round and round-robin play, with potentially more than 15 hours of hockey a day.

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NHL return-to-play plans – Latest timeline, testing plans, bubble life details

It has been 116 days since the NHL hit the pause button on the 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the cancellations and postponements around the world of sports continue, there also have been continuous nuggets of new information regarding the potential resumption of the season, the draft, the playoffs and how it all affects 2020-21.

As players, executives and fans continue to adjust to the new normal, we will provide updates every week, answering all the burning questions about the various angles of the NHL’s relation to the pandemic. We’re getting closer to a return to play on the ice — and a new CBA that will ensure labor peace for the next several years — and there have been some intriguing developments on both fronts since last week’s update. Get caught up on it all here:

What’s the latest timeline for the resumption of the season?

Emily Kaplan: Negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA have been thorough, but on Sunday night, the sides put the finishing touches on a document detailing return-to-play protocols for Phase 3 (training camps) and Phase 4 (the 24-team tournament) that was sent to players and teams. Not only are players going to vote on which hub cities they will go back to — barring a massive unforeseen change, it’s going to be Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the Western Conference — they’re also approving the total return-to-play package, as well as a CBA extension. As of Sunday night, the sides were still finalizing language on the CBA.

It’s all going to be lumped into one vote, which should be conducted in the coming days. Once the NHLPA’s executive committee (one player rep from each of the 31 teams) gives the package the OK, they’ll move it forward to a full membership vote. The NHL’s Board of Governors also has to ratify it. After those votes, we’ll know the full details of the new CBA. It’s possible that the NHL and the NHLPA would announce a memorandum of understanding on the CBA before these votes, saying they still have to be approved by both parties.

If all goes according to plan, training camps for the 24 teams participating in the postseason should open Monday, July 13 (it was originally scheduled for this Friday, but that has moved back). Training camps will occur in each team’s playing city. Teams are then expected to travel to the two hub cities on July 25 or July 26. Games are expected to begin Aug. 1, and if the tournament goes as planned, we should be awarding a 2020 Stanley Cup winner in early October. This is all still fluid, but we’re getting to the point where the NHL needs to put firm dates on the calendar.

We haven’t yet heard of NHL players choosing to opt out. Do we expect any to, and would there be a penalty if they did?

Kaplan: As part of the agreement for a return to play, players are going to be given the ability to opt out of the tournament, with no questions asked. They don’t need a reason, and there won’t be any recourse. The document states that players have until 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday to notify teams they’re opting out, though that date will really be three days after the return-to-play package is ratified.

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It’s unclear how many players are going to opt out, because to this point, they haven’t seen all of the health and safety protocols — and therefore, have had a hard time visualizing their life “in the bubble” — but as I’ve spoken to agents, GMs and players around the league, there’s a sense that there could be a handful.

Family members will not be able to join for the first five weeks — though they will be able to join for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final — so that could be a factor for some guys choosing not to play.

As for the fact that the NHL chose Edmonton instead of Las Vegas? I texted with a prominent Western Conference player about that last week. I essentially said, Edmonton isn’t exactly Las Vegas, do you think that will be a factor in some guys not wanting to play? He quickly quashed that. “The location of the hub hasn’t been a consideration for any of the guys I talked to,” the player said. “If we went to Vegas, it’s not like guys were really expecting to be able to go play cards at the Cosmo, or whatever. The only reasons guys are going to opt out is for health, personal or family reasons.”

At the end of our conversation, he added: “Hockey guys just aren’t divas like that.”

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Emily Kaplan tells Scott Van Pelt that NHL players who don’t want to participate in the league’s restart can do so without giving the league a reason.

What will bubble life look like?

Kaplan: The NHL is trying to minimize the number of people in the bubble, which they refer to in the document as the “Secure Zone.” As noted above, players’ families cannot join until the conference finals. Each team has had to submit a list to the NHL of their 52-member traveling party — which includes a roster of no more than 31 players, three coaches, two athletic trainers, one physician, one equipment manager, one massage therapist, one therapist or chiropractor, one content creator/social media individual, one security representative and one representative to serve as the club’s compliance officer. (If teams do not comply with any of the protocols, they could be subject to “significant financial penalties” and potential loss of draft picks.)

According to the document, “all individuals shall maintain physical distancing (a minimum of 6-foot distance) at all times throughout Phase 4, to the extent possible.” This includes time on planes and buses, eating at restaurants, and any social circumstances. The league will provide face coverings, though individuals may bring their own, and they must be worn at all times in the secure zones. Players do not need to wear face coverings while exercising, and coaches do not need to wear them while on the bench.

As for what it will look like in Edmonton and Toronto? Expect campus-like setups. Players will be living in single-occupancy hotel rooms, with no roommates. Housekeeping will come every third day. The NHL is focused on bringing in entertainment so that players don’t go stir crazy, but it doesn’t sound quite as lavish as the NBA’s plan. Some details I’ve heard so far: setting up food trucks, outdoor movie screenings, as well as secured golf course outings.

The document outlines several dining options for players: hotel restaurants and bars in the “secure zone,” contactless room service delivery, and contactless delivery from local restaurants with a secure drop-off location. Players also may eat in designated meeting rooms with “modified buffet-style meals” by caterers, which are subject to plexiglass barriers between servers and individuals.

According to the document “the hotel pool, if open, is permitted for use by all individuals at the Secure Zone Hotel, so long as individuals can socially distance, both in and out of the pool.” However, the hotel spa, steam room and sauna will be closed for everyone.

What happens if a player or someone working for an NHL team tests positive for COVID-19 in Phase 3 or Phase 4?

Greg Wyshynski: Anyone who develops symptoms, or is living with someone who develops symptoms and/or tests positive for COVID-19 during Phase 3, must immediately notify their team, self-isolate and get tested by the team’s physicians. If they test positive, the person can return to the facilities if they’ve tested negative twice on the basis of CDC Test-Based Strategy after their fever breaks and they have improved respiratory symptoms; or if they have no fever or respiratory symptoms for 72 hours if that person has self-isolated for a minimum of 10 days.

Symptomatic players must refrain from exercise for at least 14 days after the first positive test, and have to get approval from a cardiologist and team physician before returning to game activity.

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If the person testing positive is asymptomatic, there’s a “confirmatory” second test; if that’s positive, they must isolate until they’re cleared to return to team facilities. That clearance can be gained through “at least two consecutive, respiratory specimens, nasopharyngeal where feasible” that are collected 24 hours or more apart and test negative; or “upon the passage of 10 days since the first positive test, providing the person has remained asymptomatic during the entire period of their self-isolation.”

Teams also are going to conduct contact tracing after positive tests, as any person who has been in contact with the individual “for 15 minutes or longer at 6 feet or less” in the 48 hours leading up to the positive test must be tested themselves.

Phase 4 features similar positive test protocols for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals as Phase 3, but expands the scope of testing into five different groups:

Group 1: “Persons who are the core playing group, and those persons essential to support the core playing group,” such as players, team staff, officials, NHL and NHLPA staff. They’re both tested and temperature/symptom checked daily.

Group 2: “Persons with key business functions with no or short duration contact with Group 1 participants,” such as off-ice officials and some hotel staff. They’re both tested and temperature/symptom checked daily.

Group 3: “Persons with the potential for repeated short duration contact with Groups 1 & 2 participants,” such as hotel food service staff, security and ice crew workers. They’re both tested and temperature/symptom checked daily.

Group 4: “Persons with very limited or short duration exposure to Group 1, 2, and 3 participants,” such as arena game operations staff, hotel housekeeping and transportation staff. They’re both tested and temperature/symptom checked daily.

Group 5: “Persons with no exposure to other Groups,” such as the fire marshal and working media. They’re not tested, but are temperature and symptom checked daily.

Who facilitates these tests? Each team will name a compliance officer, who must be a senior member of their traveling group with compliance experience. They will “certify, in writing, by 10 p.m. local time each day, to the League Facility Hygiene Officer, that all members of the Club’s Traveling Party remain compliant with all necessary aspects of the Phase 4 Protocol. They also report any noncompliance, and how it will be remedied.”

Once you’re in the bubble, there’s no opting out of these tests. Those who refuse to follow their testing and monitoring requirements “will be prohibited from participating in their job functions in Phase 4. Such individuals will be prohibited from participation in any Club activity, and may be subject to permanent removal from the Phase 4 Secure Zone if they persist in their refusal.”

Rogers Place in Edmonton is likely to serve as one of the NHL’s homes for the return-to-play tournament. Codie McLachlan/Getty ImagesWill the NHL and the NHLPA release information about players who test positive and have to miss postseason games?

Wyshynski: No. According to the return-to-play protocol, “Absent prior approval by the League (who shall consult with the NHLPA), there shall be no disclosure by the Club to the media or to the public of information relating to a Player’s positive test result or to a Player developing COVID-19 symptoms during Phase 4.”

Public sentiment in the run-up to “return to play” has been against naming players who test positive for COVID-19, honoring their privacy in these unprecedented times. Does the sentiment change as these players enter Phase 4 and begin inexplicably missing games? Or if it appears the league is concealing test results to portray a more secure bubble?

Moving over to the collective bargaining agreement, is it true NHL players could return to the Olympics as part of this new CBA?

Kaplan: There is language in the CBA memorandum of understanding that says NHL players can go to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and 2026 Olympics in Milan (pending IOC approval) and I cannot understate what a massive win this is for the players, and also what a total surprise this is.

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I’ll put it this way, if you talk to NHL players and ask them what their two biggest gripes with the league are, nine times out of 10 you’ll get one of these two answers: escrow and Olympic participation. I’ve also sat in on pretty much every Gary Bettman and Bill Daly media scrum over the past three years — at GM meetings, Board of Governors meetings, Stanley Cup playoffs, All-Star Games, etc. — and when asked about the Olympics, they have each maintained a hard-line stance that the NHL had no regrets about skipping PyeongChang in 2018, and gave no hints that the landscape could change anytime soon. Bettman and Daly asserted that it didn’t behoove the NHL to pause its season for the Olympics, and risk players getting injured in non-NHL competition. They also said the cost of insurance and lack of marketing benefits just didn’t make it worth it for the NHL.

So for them to reverse course — in the middle of a global pandemic, no less — feels stunning. What it came down to is this: The players and the league re-entered CBA negotiations during the pandemic, and in any negotiation, there’s give and take. The league was unwilling to do an entire overhaul of their financial structure, meaning escrow wouldn’t go away completely (though there are some improvements for players), but they were willing to budge on the Olympics as a sweetener.

My personal take: All along, while NHL leaders said they didn’t see the benefit of going to the Olympics, they knew that was a narrow view. Broadly, the sport needs visibility. China is a market the NHL has been trying to cultivate for some time, so the fact the next Games are in Beijing makes sense for the league. So that’s why they were willing to budge.

One additional note: This Olympic participation is not part of a larger international calendar of events in the new CBA. While that’s something the NHL had been after for a while in relation to Olympic participation, the sides just didn’t have enough time to hammer it out. Expect the conversations to continue on this issue following the players’ vote.

So what’s going on with escrow?

Wyshynski: The players have consistently cited escrow withholdings, the percentage of their salaries withheld in case there’s an uneven 50-50 revenue split between themselves and the owners, as their primary financial concern in the next CBA. Escrow has taken on extra prominence after the 2019-20 season was paused because of COVID-19, with a postseason that won’t have any revenues generated from fans in the buildings. As CBA talks continued, there was one pressing question: How would the players make up for that revenue imbalance?

As we previously reported, the escrow percentage in 2020-21 will be capped at 20% for Year 1 of the new CBA. It’s expected that the withholdings would be made available to the owners during the season, rather than waiting until after the season to slice up the pie. In 2021-22, escrow would be capped somewhere between 14-18%, with the final number determined by the previous season’s revenues. Escrow would then be capped at 10% in 2023-24, and then at 6% from 2024-26. In the event that there’s a seventh year on the deal — which would be triggered if the players’ escrow debt is $125 million or more after six seasons — the escrow rate would be set at 9%.

(For a point of comparison, escrow withholding for 2018-19 was 12.9%, with 3.25% returned to players. The official escrow loss for the players that season was 9.65%.)

Another part of this equation is a one-time 10% salary deferral by the players next season. That money would be exempt from the 20% withholding, and paid back over the course of three seasons beginning in 2022-23.

While this doesn’t “get rid of escrow,” perhaps it comes closer to “fixing” escrow, which is something that players such as Artemi Panarin argued must happen before players returned to complete the season.

Rangers star Artemi Panarin made a bold statement on social media regarding the NHL’s escrow system. Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty ImagesWhat will the salary cap look like moving forward?

Wyshynski: The salary cap for the 2020-21 season will be set at $81.5 million. It will remain there until league hockey-related revenues reach $4.8 billion, which was the amount projected for this season before it was paused. Once that happens, the upper limit of the salary cap would be calculated through a new equation in this CBA, using the hockey-related revenue from two seasons earlier as a determining factor.

Multiple sources have indicated in the past few weeks that we could expect to see a “frozen” salary cap at $81.5 million for the next two seasons, given the economic uncertainty surrounding revenues for the 2020-21 season. But it’s expected that with a new U.S. broadcast rights contract and the expected revenue windfall from the Seattle expansion team, returning hockey-related revenue to previous levels is attainable.

What are other highlights of the new CBA?

Wyshynski: A few other nuggets confirmed by sources, beyond the salary cap, escrow and Olympic participation:

Playoff bonus shares are increasing. The overall pot this season is $32 million, doubling from last season’s $16 million. The pot is set at $20 million next postseason. The percentage shares for players during this non-traditional playoff tournament had yet to be determined.

The NHL and the players were able to agree on an increase of their minimum wage. That salary rises from $700,000 to $750,000 next season, and will reach $800,000 by the sixth year of the CBA.

No-move and no-trade clauses are now portable with players, no matter what the team acquiring them wants. Previously, those teams had to agree to keep the clauses intact if they hadn’t been triggered.

The “35-and-older” rule will be tweaked. If a player 35 years old or older signs a multiyear deal that is flat or ascending in value, there will be no cap hit left on the books if they retire before the deal is up. This was a smart fix to an unfortunate byproduct from a rule intended to penalize cap circumvention.

Finally, here’s an interesting one: No more conditional picks being traded that are contingent on a player re-signing with the team that acquired him. These picks were famously attached to trades for Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene and Taylor Hall in recent years. The players and the agents felt that it makes it tougher for a player to sign an extension with the team that acquired them if there’s a conditional pick in play.

And finally, what’s your latest pop culture addiction this week?

Kaplan: Over the past few months, I’ve committed to becoming an English Premier League fan and settled on being a Chelsea supporter — mostly because they have a young American star, and I knew a lot of their games would have prime NBC Sports broadcasts so they’d be easier to follow. So this week, Christian Pulisic is my pop culture addiction. He was an absolute force in Saturday’s match against Watford, easily the best player on the pitch (look at all of my authentic football language!). I love what Men in Blazers’ Roger Bennett tweeted about Pulisic afterward: “His quick feet, ability to attack crevices of space and surging confidence make him Chelsea’s most important player right now. First time an American has played that role on a Premier League team in the 244-year history of our Nation.” What a July 4 treat indeed!

Wyshynski: I binged “Crazy Delicious” on Netflix, which is a cooking competition from the U.K. that certainly captures the spirit of the original “Iron Chef.” Three contestants make elaborate dishes to appease three “food gods,” and it’s just silly fun. And like the rest of humanity (based on my social media feeds), I watched “Hamilton” on Disney+ over the weekend. I had the honor of seeing it twice, including once from the second row (!), but never saw it with the original cast intact. I’ll say this: Whoever took on Aaron Burr after Leslie Odom Jr. owned that role was a brave, brave man. (Although I heard that Wayne Brady’s version in the Chicago troupe was really good.)

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NHL

Alexis Lafreniere NHL draft sweepstakes

The 2020 NHL draft lottery was pure chaos.

It wasn’t just that the lowly Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators lost out on the No. 1 pick. Everyone must cope with the fact that “Team E” — a squad that plays in the NHL’s 24-team postseason — gets the chance to draft No. 1 prospect Alexis Lafreniere. The eight losers in the qualifying round each get a 12.5% chance at the winger. (If you want to know why Lafreniere is widely projected as the top pick, just consider this: Only two players in Canadian Hockey League history have won the Player of the Year Award twice. One is Sidney Crosby. The other is Lafreniere.)

Since this is a most unconventional year, we broke down the first-pick landscape, assessing potential landing spots for Lafreniere by the best fit for him, which team needs it the most, and of course, which selection would elicit the biggest collective eye roll around the league. We graded each category for all 16 teams on a scale of 1-10.

Jump to:
ARI | CGY | CAR | CHI
CBJ | EDM | FLA | MIN
MTL | NSH | NYI | NYR
PIT | TOR | VAN | WPG

Fit: 7. Rick Tocchet is known as a terrific players’ coach. He knows how to reach guys and put them in the best position to succeed. For Lafreniere, that might mean playing on a line with Nick Schmaltz and Phil Kessel as a rookie. That’s not a bad spot at all, either, as Schmaltz is one of the league’s most underrated playmakers.

Necessity: 8. Kessel hasn’t produced offensively as we expected him to in Arizona (yet), and we don’t even know if Taylor Hall will stay past this season. This is a team with serious scoring issues. The Coyotes have tried to address it via trade the past few seasons, but perhaps the only true fix is a shot at drafting a generational talent.

Eye roll: 6. The only reason this is getting an eye roll at all is that Hall is on the roster. If the Coyotes win the No. 1 pick, we actually might need to investigate what hex Hall has over the draft lottery. It’s truly a historic run.

They talk about Gretzky’s 92 goals or Sittler’s 10 pts in one game as records that may never be broken. But winning 5 draft lotteries in your first 9 years in the league? In 2 different draft lottery eras, no less. That is a record that will stand forever.

— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) April 10, 2019

The Coyotes have never picked No. 1, and this would be the best way to drum up interest for a new owner and president looking to sell tickets and find a long-term arena solution.

Fit: 6. The Flames are a good team that underperformed (especially based off the standards they set one season prior). Since Calgary has Johnny Gaudreau, there is not immediate pressure for Lafreniere to be the top-line scoring savior, so he’d be walking into a good situation.

Necessity: 5. Maybe landing Lafreniere would empower the Flames to trade Gaudreau? There’s a faction of the fan base that wouldn’t mind that after Gaudreau’s off year, but it doesn’t feel necessary. This team has been seeking forward help lately, and Calgary wouldn’t mind if it just fell into its lap.

Eye roll: 4. It’s hard to feel too strongly either way about the Flames landing Lafreniere. It would be a fine fit, but there are absolutely others more deserving.

Fit: 8. The Canes are a deep and balanced team. Their top trio (Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen) is young and exciting. Lafreniere could play with any combination of those players eventually, but probably cut his teeth in the middle six to start.

2 Related

Necessity: 5. This is a team that’s on the upswing. It has an identity under coach Rod Brind’Amour, and when they are health and clicking, the Hurricanes are really tough to beat. Like many teams on this list, they could use some scoring help. But like the well-constructed ones, selecting Lafreniere won’t make or break Carolina’s long-term trajectory.

Eye roll: 3. When the Hurricanes selected Svechnikov at No. 2 in 2018, it was their first lottery pick since Jack Johnson in 2005. So there’s no lottery fatigue here. Plus, if the Canes lose to the Rangers in the qualifying round, it’s because they got a tough draw (the Rangers have a great track record against Carolina). So they would get some pity points.

Fit: 8. The Blackhawks already set the model for what they’d do with a highly touted prospect in a largely veteran lineup with Kirby Dach. The 2019 No. 3 overall pick largely played on the third line as he adjusted to the NHL this season. You could expect the same for Lafreniere, who wouldn’t have to shoulder as much spotlight with stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews still in the lineup for years to come.

Necessity: 5. Chicago has been trying to retool on the fly to squeeze another run out of its aging core. General manager Stan Bowman has already collected some decent 23-and-under talent, including Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Dach, Alex Nylander, Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell. But this cap-strapped team can use all of the entry-level contracts it can get.

Eye roll: 9. There’s always a perception that the NHL favors the Blackhawks (the only evidence of this is how many outdoor games Chicago gets), so this wouldn’t play well with the other 30 fan bases. Plus, the Blackhawks lucked into the No. 3 spot last year to select Dach, meaning it’d be back-to-back good draft fortunes.

Fit: 7. Lafreniere as a Blue Jacket would make a lot of sense. Columbus, Ohio, is a smaller media market so there’s not as much attention. Perhaps he is the long-term solution at winger alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is still only 22 and has shown great strides the past two seasons.

Necessity: 9. Even before Artemi Panarin left, this team’s biggest need was secondary scoring help and more skilled forwards. The Blue Jackets scored the fewest goals this season of any of the 16 teams eligible for Lafreniere. The teenager could help the franchise forget about the Breadman — aka the one who got away. He would instantly get a shot in the top six.

Eye roll: 2. This is one of the few play-in teams that it’s hard to argue a case against. The Blue Jackets deserve some good juju after seeing two of the best players in franchise history — Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky — walk in free agency last summer. They need star power. They also gave up a ton of draft picks in their “all-in” playoffs last spring; adding a No. 1 pick is the quickest remedy for a depleted prospect pool.

Fit: 9. There are few better situations Lafreniere could walk into than what the Oilers present: the chance to ride shotgun to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for years to come. Lafreniere will also get the chance to learn from McDavid, who knows a thing or two about handling hype.

• Peters’ mock draft » | Top 100 »
• Lottery spin » | Lafreniere to … ? »
• Best at every skill » | Top goalies »
• More 2020 NHL draft coverage »

Necessity: 7. We’ve been lamenting for years that McDavid and Draisaitl don’t have enough help around them. While management has tried to address this problem — most recently taking a flier on Andreas Athanasiou — the bigger issue with this team is the blue line.

Eye roll: 10. Another No. 1 pick for the Oilers? You have to be kidding. This would be Edmonton’s fourth shot at selecting No. 1 in the draft since 2010. Only two of those players (McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) are still with the franchise. Perhaps that’s the case for why Edmonton is even less deserving of another shot.

Fit: 6. Florida would be a cozy landing spot for Lafreniere, and talented forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau would be happy to see another skilled winger join their group. The only snag here is that coach Joel Quenneville has a reputation for not trusting rookies, so it might take Lafreniere a bit longer to get his feet wet.

Necessity: 6. Sneakily, the Panthers finished sixth in scoring in the season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. But you can never have enough scoring help, and Lafreniere would plug in nicely to the middle six, perhaps even getting a shot on Barkov’s wing.

Eye roll: 5. The team has reportedly been trying to shed some payroll after overspending last summer, so it would feel convenient to get a stud talent inked to an entry-level deal for three years. That said, everyone in the NHL knows the Panthers could use some help selling tickets, and this would do it.

Fit: 6. One thing Lafreniere might enjoy is coming into the league with the Wild’s top prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, who is expected to join the team next season from Russia. Since there would be outsized expectations for both players, they could shoulder the burden together and grow together as Minnesota’s new go-to tandem.

Necessity: 8. What a coup this would be for GM Bill Guerin, who inherited an aging roster with a ton of bloated contracts. The easiest way to turn things around and stay relevant without a full tear-down is capitalizing on star rookies making entry-level money. Enter Lafreniere (and Kaprizov).

Eye roll: 3. It’s hard to argue with Minnesota’s worthiness here. The Wild haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since 2013 but also haven’t drafted inside the top 10 since 2012, when they selected Matt Dumba No. 7 overall.

Fit: 6. The Habs have one of the largest media contingents in the NHL, with dozens of dual-language reporters. Drafting a local kid No. 1 is going to be a big deal. That spotlight isn’t ideal for a teenager but could be fun. Though the Habs have slumped the past five years, Lafreniere would be one of 14 draft picks in 2020, so there should be reinforcements on the way.

Necessity: 7. Like a lot of teams on this list, the Canadiens’ biggest need is defense. But to be sure, they could use some scoring help, too. The Habs are developing their next wave of core forwards, and Lafreniere would join Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi as players to build around.

Eye roll: 5. Considering the Canadiens really had no business being in the postseason to begin with, it’s not so bad. After all, they were sellers at the deadline, hoping to leverage some future success. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has long coveted a French Canadian superstar (remember the Jonathan Drouin trade?), so to finally have one fall in his lap … c’est trop parfait.

Fit: 7. Honestly, Lafreniere could plug right in on Nashville’s top line, alongside Ryan Johansen, and give this team an immediate upgrade on offense. Of course, it will likely take him some time to adjust to the NHL, but if Lafreniere wants to feel needed somewhere, it’s in this forward group.

With the NHL on pause since March 12, the league and players’ association have come up with a return-to-play format featuring 24 teams.

• Details on the return-to-play plan »
• Latest updates from around the NHL »

Necessity: 8. Here’s the biggest reason the Predators need Lafreniere: They’re squeezed against the salary cap and likely don’t have any relief coming, with the pandemic-affected cap expected to stay flat for at least two seasons. Nashville is also the only team in NHL history to not have a 40-goal scorer. The Preds’ top scoring forward this season had just 48 points (Filip Forsberg). Not great.

Eye roll: 3. It’s been a while since the Predators received a high draft pick. Their most recent picks in the top 15 were Kevin Fiala (2014) and Seth Jones (2013), and both players were traded away. This team feels due for some lottery luck.

Fit: 6. Get ready to work on your defensive game, kid. Lafreniere would certainly round out as a two-way player under the tutelage of coach Barry Trotz. But he could be set up for immediate and long-term success if he gets the chance to play shotgun on Mathew Barzal’s wing.

Necessity: 7. The Islanders are one of the oldest teams in the league, and it would behoove them to start skewing younger (though unclear if that’s in GM Lou Lamoriello’s plans). New York also could use skilled forwards and scoring help — it has few outside Barzal. Once again, the Isles finished bottom 10 in the league in goals per game.

Eye roll: 5. When Lamoriello sent the Senators a first-round pick for Jean-Gabriel Pageau, it was lottery-protected for this exact, albeit unlikely, scenario. So kudos for the foresight. The only eye roll comes with the thought of Lafreniere’s skill being stifled by the Islanders’ stingy defensive structure.

Fit: 8. What a great time to arrive to this franchise. The Rangers went through the pain of rebuilding and parting with plenty of veterans, and they have now built things back up in record time. Like they did with Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers would give Lafreniere immediate opportunities but allow patience for him to grow. And Lafreniere’s agent probably wouldn’t mind the marketing potential of playing in New York City.

Necessity: 6. The Rangers’ new core has scary good potential: Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Kakko, Jacob Trouba and Igor Shesterkin. Lafreniere would be a great add, but he is not exactly essential to this team’s long-term fortunes. New York already locked in two fantastic wingers (Panarin and Chris Kreider) to long-term deals. Defense is the need, but getting another young talent on an entry-level contract could allow New York to spend in free agency instead; that’s so Rangers.

Eye roll: 8. One year after selecting No. 2 (Kakko), the Rangers get a No. 1? Yeah, that’s not going to play well with other fan bases, especially since New York always seems to have an advantage luring big-name free agents.

Fit: 9. Out of every team that could possibly draft Lafreniere, the Penguins might offer the best fit. Who doesn’t want to ride the coattails of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin chasing another Stanley Cup before their careers wind down? GM Jim Rutherford is going to go all-in as long as he has these two, meaning Lafreniere will be surrounded by talent right away. And once Crosby retires, Lafreniere can inherit the team, when he’ll be ready. It’s seamless.

Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski take you around the NHL with the latest news, big questions and special guests every episode. Listen here »

Necessity: 5. This team was dangerous without Lafreniere (and proved it has depth, as it found success despite unrelenting injury luck this season). Since Rutherford is so keen on winning now, he has mortgaged quite a bit of draft capital. Landing Lafreniere could compensate for an otherwise sad prospect pool.

Eye roll: 8. Look, everyone would feel sorry for the Penguins if they lost in the qualification round to the they-don’t-belong-here Canadiens. But hasn’t Pittsburgh enjoyed enough franchise-saving No. 1 picks over the years? There are plenty of teams that have yet to be so lucky.

Fit: 6. Toronto is the media fishbowl of the NHL, and that usually doesn’t bode well for a rookie’s transition into the league. Luckily, there are even bigger names in this lineup to shoulder some attention. Because the Leafs are so stacked up front, Lafreniere could develop for his first two seasons in a third-line role as he gets acclimated.

Necessity: 4. Put it simply: Lafreniere would be a luxury. This is the only team in the league paying three forwards more than $10 million each. Could Lafreniere help this team become an even bigger offensive juggernaut than it is now? Probably. Will his entry-level contract help the salary-cap situation? In the short term. But he’s not a defenseman, and that’s what the Leafs really need.

Eye roll: 9. Lafreniere in a top six that features Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen? Yeah, that’s not going to go over well around the league. The biggest eye roll would likely come from the Maple Leafs’ closest (geographical) rival: the Senators, a lowly team that had two shots to select at No. 1 and instead ended up with No. 3 and No. 5.

Fit: 8. Quinn Hughes said this week that it would be “crazy” if Lafreniere ended up on a contender, and he’s right. Lafreniere would have a good time indeed if he were on the Canucks, a team brimming with dynamic young talent. Lafreniere’s physicality and skill would be an incredible complement to Elias Pettersson; it would be great to see those two flourish together.

Necessity: 5. Lafreniere could be the fourth consecutive Canucks player to be nominated for the Calder Trophy, which is to suggest they’ve been quite fortunate with standout rookies lately. Having another in their arsenal just feels like a luxury. Defense, not forward, is the bigger need.

Eye roll: 5. It’s not that the Canucks don’t deserve Lafreniere (really, no team on this list does). They’ve just found some great value draft picks outside of the top three lately, so being able to get a slam dunk at No. 1 would be a slap in many scouting departments’ faces.

Fit: 8. The best thing about the Jets for Lafreniere is that he’d be surrounded by plenty of veteran talent in the top six, which would relieve some pressure early on. Captain Blake Wheeler has a good handle on this team. It would be neat to see Lafreniere develop chemistry with Patrik Laine (22 years old) and Kyle Connor (23) for seasons to come.

• Kaplan: The perfect forward »
• Peters: The perfect defenseman »
• Wyshynski: The perfect goalie »
• Peters: Best draft prospect by skill »

Necessity: 6. What the Jets really need right now are defensemen, not forwards. There’s plenty of offensive firepower in this lineup, but not so much on the dependable-blueliner front. But after focusing on defense in last year’s draft (the first- and second-round picks were both D-men), a top-end forward would complement well.

Eye roll: 4. It wasn’t too long ago that the Jets jumped from sixth to second overall in the draft lottery to select Laine (oh wait, that was four years ago already? We are living in a wacky timeline). Nonetheless, the belief around the league is that Winnipeg got some tough luck last season with the Dustin Byfuglien situation and an untimely exodus of defensemen, so this could restore some karma.

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NHL

Source — NHL to pay out $300M in signing bonuses as scheduled

NHL players who are due signing bonuses on July 1 are expected to be paid as scheduled, a source confirmed to ESPN.

There is more than $300 million due to be paid to players on Wednesday, with the Toronto Maple Leafs leading the league with roughly $60 million owed. Contracts structured with large signing bonuses have been in vogue in the NHL the past several years.

Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews ($15.2 million) and Mitch Marner ($14.3 million) will receive the largest payments on July 1. Connor McDavid (Oilers) is third in the NHL at $13 million, and Artemi Panarin (Rangers) is fourth at $12 million, according to CapFriendly.com.

The agreement to pay players and not defer was made Tuesday between the NHL and NHLPA. The two sides are in ongoing negotiations about the league’s plan to restart with a 24-team tournament in two hub cities this summer. The sides have yet to finalize the health and safety protocols for games or announce the hub cities.

Sources told ESPN that Toronto, Edmonton, Las Vegas and Chicago remain in the mix, though there is momentum for two Canadian hub cities to be chosen, given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in several U.S. states.

The NHL and NHLPA are hoping to announce a collective bargaining agreement extension in the coming days.

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