After the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association came to an agreement of the Memo of Understanding on Friday night with the NHL’s Return To Play protocols and the new extension of the collective bargaining agreement, the league was able to push forward on Monday with the opening of Phase 3 of the Return To Play initiative.
Phase 3 of the plan is the formal opening of training camps for all 24 teams reporting to the two hub cities in Edmonton, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario on Sunday, July 26. Each team is allowed 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goaltenders to take part in training camps in their home cities, and then will be allowed a total of 52 people per-team inside the bubble with a maximum of 31 players.
Following one exhibition game in the bub city, Phase 4 of the Return To Play play would then commence, which kicks off the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round, as well as the seeding round-robin tournament.
TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger joined the Howard and Jeremy Show on Monday as he provided the latest news and notes from around the NHL. Dreger touched base on Phase 3 of the Return To Play plan, what happens if there’s a possible outbreak of COVID-19 at any point going forward, and more.
Here is some of what he had to say:
Dreger on what Phase 3 of the Return To Play plan means for the league:
“It means that training camps have opened and the NHL is one step closer to fully returning. It’s a significant step, there’s no question about that, but I don’t think that anyone around the National Hockey League, all 31 teams included, well, 24 in terms of the tournament field, are 100% comfortable yet. There’s still a hint of nervousness, I would say, based on the positive testing that’s happening here in North America. Major League Soccer had a setback over the weekend and had to reschedule a game because of positive testing. Until the NHL gets into Phase 4, even though Phase 3 is a big step with the opening of training camp today, Phase 4 in those hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton is the pure indication that it’s game on. Until they get to that stage, there’s no guarantee, obviously.”
Dreger on the league opening Phase 3 of the Return To Play plan on Monday:
“Personally, I look at things realistically, and you just flip on the television or check your social media news feeds and you can see the incredible numbers that we’re still seeing on a daily basis in Florida, through much of the United States, and frankly, around the world. It’s tough to make sense with how a pro sports league can start up again, even with the incredible restrictions that are in place here when COVID-19 is still very strong worldwide. But then professionally, you kind of cloak yourself from that reality and you look at the unbelievable amount of work that the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association did to get to a point of opening training camps today.”
Dreger on the concerns of a possible outbreak of COVID-19 before the restart of the season:
“The mammoth undertaking of putting [the Phase 3 protocols] together, and you say, ‘Alright, if they can get into Phase 4, it looks like everybody involved in the process should be fine, should be healthy.’ But then you flip back, ok, what happens when there is a positive test? The NHL has addressed that and has said, ‘We’re not going to shut down if there’s one test.’ Well, what if there’s an outbreak? Deputy commissioner Bill Daly talked a little bit about that on the media call; they don’t want to get pinned down because they can, but the one thing that provides comfort for me, personally and professionally, is that the decision makers are the health authorities. As long as the medical experts continue to say, ‘Yes, you’re fine to move forward,’ then I think the rest of us should be able to live with it as well.”
Dreger on teams having extra players around for the playoff run:
“There will be extra players around. They can have a roster of 31. That can be trying too, right? I mean, we’ve seen that historically too in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and you’ll go through rounds where we call them ‘the black aces’ who don’t normally play in games. Some of them are fortunate enough to, but they spend a great deal of time together. The assumption is that that’s going to continue to be the case. So that group of non-game playing players will continue to train and work out, and do everything that they do and be available to the NHL club.”
Dreger on the CBA negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA:
“As soon as we knew that it was right at the finish line, you start talking to both sides. Then once it’s been ratified and announced, you continue to talk to both sides, and here’s how I know that it’s an acceptable agreement: I have lots of sources on the owners’ side who hate it. They just don’t like it for a lot of reasons. And I have sources on the players’ side who don’t think it’s a good deal either. So it must be a great deal. If you have both sides thinking that, the league and the association, could have done better, the chances are it’s fair for both sides and that’s the way I look at it.”
Dreger on the Sabres’ decision to fire general manager Jason Botterill and replace him with Kevyn Adams:
“The timing of it was surprising, I think we’d all agree with that. If the season had ended in regular fashion and the world hadn’t stopped because of a pandemic, I think many of us who work on the inside would’ve been wondering about the future of Jason Botterill as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. I wouldn’t have picked Kevyn Adams as the heir apparent, and I’ve got a lot of respect for Kevyn and the work that he has done and how quickly he has learned during his time away from the playing days and fully immersed in learning his craft, so he deserves credit for that.
“Tough decisions are made every day around the National Hockey League, and you don’t always have to agree with them. I think that these changes are intriguing, but you only know the capability of a general manager when the general manager starts making tough decisions, and there have been tough decisions made. Kevyn tries to surround himself with quality people that he knows are going to help the hockey operations side, organizationally speaking, but you have to make trades and you’ve got to sign players. You’ve got to make those tough hockey calls.”
You can listen to the entire interview below: