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NHL Return: ‘Message Sent And Message Received’ For Players

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As the NHL and NHLPA talk daily in an attempt to facilitate the NHL return to play, major concerns from players have arisen. Fortunately, sources say the two sides are working closely and amicably, rather than the two sides’ historically adversarial relationship.

This week, an increasing number of players voiced concerns over quarantining away from families for several months. The sides are trying to accommodate those major concerns to salvage the NHL return, which both sides hope includes the conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season and the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Friday, the NHL sent a message back to the players. Not only does the league view the NHLPA as necessary partners in the NHL return, but also in extending the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. This week, the two sides also agreed to begin CBA negotiations while goodwill is high. 

One high-ranking NHLPA official expressed optimistic sentiments to Boston Hockey Now late Friday afternoon. 

“Message sent and message received and that’s a great sign for the present and the future,” the source said. 

As TSN Insider Trading host, James Duthie said Thursday night: 

“You can’t have a pandemic crisis followed by a lockout.”

On Friday, Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the NHL is now looking into teams actually hosting scheduled home games in their home barns as opposed to the proposed neutral sites for a return to the 2019-20 regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. At the crux of the change of heart were players with families not wanting to be quarantined and away from their loved ones for at least a month for obvious reasons and Coronavirus safety precautions. 

According to Brooks, while this sentiment wasn’t unanimous amongst the player ranks, it was strong enough that the NHLPA leadership went to bat for their members in what can best be described as an extremely delicate situation. Besides the obvious reasons, it’s delicate because both the PA and the league are walking a tight rope over not just the chance to save this season and recoup some lost revenue but also the future of the current CBA.

Earlier Friday morning, Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported the league and the PA are expected to resume progressive talks on an extension to the current CBA soon. Just a week ago, it appeared the NHL’s pitch to have the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in June was the biggest obstacle to the NHL return.

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What a difference a week makes.

“That was more team management. (It was) the league, and the owners debating how beneficial a draft in June would be. But, even players chimed in. It just didn’t make sense with all the ramifications involved that could still take place should the season resume,” the same source pointed out. “What’s clear right now is that the players have a voice and we all need to be on the same team for this to work and going forward.”

Prior to Brooks’ report Friday morning, NHLPA Special Assistant Mathieu Schneider made it clear to his former Montreal Canadiens teammate Chris Nilan that the NHLPA was going to bat for those players who don’t want to be alienated from their families for months. 

“Are guys expected to be away from their family for a long period of time and the answer is no,” Schneider told Nilan on TSN 690 in Montreal. “We don’t expect players to not be able to see their families for two, three, or four months at a time. We have had those discussions with Gary [Bettman] and that’s not a scenario that we’re contemplating. What we’re trying to figure out is how we get families into the bubble or we get players outside the bubble to visit with their families in between playoff rounds.”

“What does that look like?”

Analysis:

Players are on all ends of the spectrum. There are players on teams currently in the playoffs. There are some players afraid of contracting the virus, who don’t want to play until it’s 100% safe. And, there are guys who want to play at all costs.

There 700 players who have wide ranges of opinions. The two sides are trying to come up with multiple solutions that benefit the greatest number of players and push it forward. In these unprecedented times, everyone needs to stay open to different ideas and solutions. Everyone should take a long view. The immediate benefits next will mean little if it negatively impacts the next two seasons.

Who knows, maybe one benefit of “the new normal” is the NHL listens and adapts to the players’ concerns. We shall see.

With 20 years of experience (SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, ESPNBoston, NESN, NHL.com, etc.) covering the Bruins, the NHL, NCAA and junior hockey and more, Jimmy Murphy’s hockey black book is full of Hall of Famers, current players, coaches, management, scouts and a wide array of hockey media personalities that have lived in and around this great game. For 17 of his 20 years as a hockey and sports reporter, Murph covered the Bruins on essentially a daily basis covering their victorious 2011 Stanley Cup run and their 2013 run to the Final as well. Murphy has hosted national and local radio shows and podcasts and also has experience in TV as well.

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