(AP) — Pro hockey’s return is potentially three weeks away, and with it an assurance of labor peace through September 2026.
In separate votes announced Friday, the NHL’s Board of Governors and members of the NHL Players’ Association ratified a return-to-play plan slated to have games begin in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, on Aug. 1.
The voting process also included both sides approving a four-year extension to the current collective bargaining agreement that provides the league a comprehensive path out of the economic challenges raised by the new coronavirus pandemic.
“This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “We are pleased to be able to bring NHL hockey back to the fans.”
The agreements were tentatively agreed to on Monday and approved nearly four months to the day since the NHL halted its season with 189 games remaining.
Barring a setback, hockey is scheduled to resume with an expanded 24-team playoff format involving the top-12 teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences, beginning with a qualifying round and the first two rounds played in Canada. If all proceeds as planned, the Stanley Cup Final would begin in late September in Edmonton, with the 2020-21 season scheduled to open in December.
The 24 teams can now plan to open training camps Monday, which will also serve as a deadline for players to opt out of competition without penalty. The teams are then scheduled to travel to their respective hub cities on July 26.
“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,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “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.”