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Ian Cole and J.T. Compher help lead negotiations for the NHL’s return to play

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Avalanche players front and center for the NHLPA

Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks - Game Two Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Thursday evening, Bob McKenzie of TSN reported that the NHL and NHLPA are currently locked in an “unprecedented” level of negotiations as the league attempts to complete their plan to finish the 2019-20 season.

When the NHL suspended play due to the COVID-19 outbreak this past March, league executives knew they would have to work incredibly hard in order to get back on the ice and award the Stanley Cup this year. They have now reached a do-or-die inflection point. With COVID-19 numbers continuing to grow across large portions of the United States, the NHL is hoping to create a plan that the players feel safe enough to play in.

Last week, the NHL entered Phase 2 of their return to play plan, which allows small groups of players to enter team facilities to hold informal practices. The league hopes to move on to Phase 3 by mid-July, but that isn’t as set in stone as we were led to believe last week. There are still a number of big issues that need to be worked out before players will feel safe collecting for training camp.

According to Elliotte Friedman, we should know a lot more about the next step in the next week or two.

The NHL and NHLPA continue grinding away towards an agreement on safety protocol for Phase III (training camp) and Phase IV (games), in addition to the CBA. With camps scheduled for July 10, the players’ vote on this is targeted for the end of June. I don’t know if there will be two separate decisions (one for protocols and one for CBA) or one big, all-encompassing ballot, but it’s expected each player will get an individual vote.

Friedman added that the NHLPA has put together a 12-person team - which includes both Ian Cole and J.T. Compher of the Colorado Avalanche - that will negotiate for the rights of the players.

This group is working with the league to put together “opt-out” language for players who might feel uncomfortable about traveling and playing. In order to combat those fears, the NHL’s goal is to create a “bubble” that would provide ample testing and quarantine with a goal of being safer than many parts of normal society.

Earlier this week, the NBA announced their guidelines for their Orlando “bubble” - and they’re pretty strict. The NBA outlined everything from testing to masks and sanitation to what happens when an athlete test positive for COVID-19. We should expect the NHL’s guidelines to be very similar.

For now, all we can do is wait and hope that the NHL and NHLPA aren’t completely driven by finances and that they put the health of their players and staff as the top priority. WOrking closely with a group of players is a good way to do that. Unfortunately, there are rumblings that many players are more skeptical about playing this summer than they are willing to admit in public and that may lead to a world in which we don’t get to see the NHL return this summer. Because just as we think things are progressing for the return of hockey, we get news like this: