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Game on: NHL and players approve labor deal and return-to-play protocols

Game on: NHL and players approve labor deal and return-to-play protocols

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The NHL Players Association and the league approved a new collective bargaining agreement on Friday that will start the league's efforts to finish the 2019-20 season while giving labor peace through 2025-26.

This means that training camps will open on Monday, with the league looking to restart an expanded playoffs on Aug. 1 in Edmonton and Toronto.

The Blues, who will be in Edmonton, are scheduled to play their first game on Aug. 2 against Colorado, followed by games on Aug. 6 vs. Vegas and Aug. 9 vs. Dallas. 

"Excited to get back to work on Monday!" texted Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.

The NHL has been shut down since March 12 because of the coronavirus and COVID-19. The league will have gone more than 4½ months without a game when they begin a 24-team playoff structure. 

“Today, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a significant agreement that addresses the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, the framework for the completion of the 2019-20 season and the foundation for the continued long-term growth of our League,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities. We know that all of our fans are excited about our return to the ice next month and that has been our goal since we paused our season on March 12.”

“This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time. This would not have happened but for the enormous contributions that the players made throughout, particularly those who served on the Negotiating and Return to Play Committees, as well as those on the Executive Board,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “I also thank Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the NHL staff for their efforts towards finding solutions to the problems we face. Most importantly, we are pleased to be able to bring NHL hockey back to the fans. We look forward to the NHL’s continued growth here in North America and on the world stage.”

Among other things, the contract holds the salary cap steady at $81.5 million for next season and would allow NHL players to go to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026.

The entirety of the players union voted on the proposal, which also included the protocols for the league to try to restart. Players will be isolated in hotels in the two Canadian cities for the duration of the season, though some "field trips," such as to golf courses, are planned.

Games will be played in front of empty arenas as contact between teams and people outside the league's "bubble" is extremely limited. The two Canadian cities won out over their American rivals because the virus is more contained in Canada.

Labor peace has been a rarity for the league and its players association, but this deal was put together very quickly as both sides had to make allowances to keep the game on track during what figure to be some tough financial times for the league. The loss this season alone of playing games in empty arenas figures to be above $1 billion.

There's still no guarantee the games will be played. The next two weeks, when teams hold training camps in their home cities, will run the risk of players picking up the virus. Already, four members of the Blues and one member of the coaching staff have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Frank Seravalli of TSN in Canada, the CBA passed 502-135, about 79 percent. Players will have until 4 p.m. Central time on Monday to opt out. The Blues are expected to have their first practice on Monday morning, though no announcement has been made yet.

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