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Oilers say McDavid tests positive for COVID-19

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid has tested positive for COVID-19.

McDavid, a 23-year-old forward, is self-quarantining at home and experiencing mild symptoms, according to the Oilers.

“He will continue to be monitored and will follow all associated health protocols,” the team said Monday night in a statement.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, is widely considered the best player in the NHL. The captain of the Oilers had 34 goals and 63 assists in 64 games during the pandemic-shortened season.

The NHL made it through its postseason in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton without one positive test in August and September. McDavid’s Oilers were eliminated in the opening round of the postseason in Edmonton in early August.

The league did have players test positive before the postseason. The NHL said 30 players tested positive during voluntary training in Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan earlier in the summer, while another 13 had the virus outside the Phase 2 protocol.

Two more positive tests were reported during training camp, which was considered Phase 3.

Six members of the Ottawa Senators organization tested positive for COVID-19 after the team made a trip through hard-hit California just before the league suspended its season in March.

The NHL stopped releasing the names or teams for positive tests earlier this year. However, Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews confirmed he had COVID-19 in the aftermath of published reports.

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Bubble crankiness ratchets up the nasty for Stars-Lightning

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Pat Maroon shot a puck into the Dallas bench, nailing an opponent in the face. Victor Hedman tripped Corey Perry before a faceoff. Perry put Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette into a headlock before getting flipped over.

The dislike is building quickly for the Stars and Lightning in this Stanley Cup Final, which is knotted at 1-1 going into Wednesday night’s game. While nastiness typically develops in a lot of series this deep in the playoffs, it’s happening even earlier in this one because players have grown cranky after eight weeks in the NHL bubble.

They are taking it out on the ice.

“That would probably play a big part of it,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “The things that you normally do to relax between games, whether it’s going out for dinner with your wife or go for a drive or going to the driving range to hit golf balls — anything you can do to relax between games is not there, so everyone’s a little edgy.”

The championship will ultimately be decided by which team can dictate its game to the other in what has become a best three out of five series. Those extra pushes, shoves and facewashes are part of it — and they only ratchet up the intensity, even without fans to cheer or boo it all.

“It seems like in this setting with no fans, it’s even more competitive out there with just you and the other team,” Dallas forward Andrew Cogliano said. “Both teams are going to fight for every inch. As the series goes on, it’s just going to get more competitive.”

It’s competitive and chippy after the teams split the first two games and combined for 50 penalty minutes. Fourteen of those belong to Maroon, who got a 10-minute misconduct for flipping a puck into the bench and two minutes for roughing it up with Jamie Oleksiak in Game 1, then another two in Game 2 for running Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin.

“You know what happened,” Maroon said when asked about the puck incident. Stars veteran Joe Pavelski wasn’t thrilled the puck hit rookie Joel Kiviranta in the face, but said the referees handled it.

“That’s all you can do,” Pavelski said. “It doesn’t take us off our game.”

After Maroon ran into Khudobin and incited a skirmish that qualifies as modern hockey’s line brawl, it was clear he has not endeared himself to the Stars.

“Why’s Maroon still out there?” a Dallas player yelled, easily heard in the empty arena. “Put him in the box already!”

By the time Maroon, Hedman and Paquette got to the box, it was so crowded all three couldn’t sit down. Each team wants to avoid unnecessary penalties like that, but players know what’s at stake and they are not surprised by all the post-whistle extracurriculars.

“You’re not trying to give anyone an inch out there,” Tampa Bay center Anthony Cirelli said. “You’re trying to finish every check when you can, it’s going to be physical, the emotions are going to be high. I think that’s just what comes with the entire playoffs, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about.”

This is also playoff hockey in the most unnatural of circumstances. As Bowness pointed out, players and coaches usually would be able to clear their minds and blow off steam between games.

That’s not possible right now.

“You’re just finding other ways,” Bowness said. “The grind, the Groundhog Day, that is tough, and the normal things you would do to help you relax are just not there, so you adapt.”

Most players started this postseason healthy, and of course the injuries built up, but the struggle the Stars and Lightning are enduring right now is as much mental as anything. And it’s different playing playoff games without the usual transition from an 82-game regular season.

“The teams are so good that what separates you sometimes is whoever wants it more,” Cogliano said. “Physically and mentally, it’s hard, but that’s the point at this time of the year and that’s the point of playing in the playoffs. It’s supposed to be hard and you have to enjoy it and want to be out there.”

Dallas played this style of game throughout the first three rounds, ousting high-scoring Colorado and Vegas along the way. Tampa Bay, after adding Maroon in free agency and Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman in trades, isn’t just a skill team and is more than happy to mix it up.

“I think we have some skill, we have some speed and we also bring that physical aspect to the game,” Cirelli said. “But we’re not trying to be goons out there. We’re trying to win hockey games.”

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Cirelli scores in OT, Lighting beat Isles to reach Cup Final

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Five years after socially distancing from the Prince of Wales Trophy and losing in the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning got their hands on and arms around it to embrace their Eastern Conference championship.

Anthony Cirelli scored in overtime and Tampa Bay beat the New York Islanders 2-1 in Game 6 of the East final Thursday night and go back to the Cup Final for the first time since 2015, where it’ll face the Dallas Stars. Injured captain Steven Stamkos, who wouldn’t even stand near the trophy then out of superstition, walked on to the ice to accept it along with the Lightning’s entire traveling party.

“It didn’t work last time, so we tried obviously touching the trophy this year,” alternate captain Victor Hedman said. “That was a no-brainer for us. We’re not superstitious but obviously didn’t touch it last time, so this year we did. That’s the end of it. We won one trophy and now we’re going for the next one.”

Stamkos, Hedman, Alex Killorn and Ryan McDonagh were the first players to shake deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s hand inside the NHL bubble that has had zero positive coronavirus test results. It mattered to the team’s leaders to have Stamkos there even though he hasn’t played since February.

“We wanted all the team captains up there and wanted Steven a part of it,” McDonagh said. “He’s been a huge part of this run even without playing. Definitely a special moment for that group and then to get the whole team involved: great moment.”

Players and coaches screamed with joy after taking a team photo with Daly. That came minutes after they streamed on to the ice to celebrate Cirelli’s goal 13:18 into overtime.

Tampa Bay ended each of its three series victories in overtime. Winger Patrick Maroon, the only player in the final in back-to-back years after winning with St. Louis in 2019, deadpanned, “My finger nails are gone.”

Only New York lasted more than five games, pushing the Lightning to their limits before their talented core got them into the final.

“We got close,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We could see the mountain top, but we couldn’t get to the mountain top.”

Now the Lightning are four wins from that mountaintop despite being without Stamkos all postseason and missing top center Brayden Point for two games against the Islanders. They can thank defenseman Hedman for scoring his ninth goal of the playoffs, Nikita Kucherov for playing 28:22 and Andrei Vasilveskiy making 26 saves while his teammates peppered Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov with 48 shots.

And Cirelli, who came back from an injury scare to score the Lightning’s biggest goal in years.

“The emotions are so high,” Cirelli said. “We worked all year. Our goal is to be playing for the Stanley Cup. We’re here now. I think it’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation. I think we’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

Cirelli appeared to injure his right knee on a collision with Islanders captain Anders Lee in the second period. He returned in the third, and coach Jon Cooper said Cirelli was “doing it basically on one leg.”

“Trying not to disclose injuries but it was pretty clear on that,” Cooper said. “For him to come back was pretty remarkable.”

Tampa Bay is trying to win its first championship since 2004. It’s the first time in franchise history the Lightning didn’t play a seven-game series in the conference finals.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point against an opponent willing to rope-a-dope, block shots and wait to pounce on chances. The Islanders got their break in Game 5 to prolong the series when Tampa Bay defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk fanned on a shot to pave the way for Jordan Eberle’s double-overtime goal, but they were on the wrong side of it Thursday.

“We had a chance to win,” said Varlamov, whose 46 saves were a single-season playoff careeer high. “Disappointing, of course. We want to go to the final and I think we had a chance to go to the final and play there, but we lost. Season’s over.”

NOTES: Hedman’s ninth goal tied him with Bobby Orr and Brad Park for the third most among defensemen in a single postseason. … Tampa Bay improved to 10-1 in one-goal games and 6-1 in overtime this postseason. … With Point back after missing Game 5 with injury, Carter Verhaeghe was scratched. … Adam Pelech was ruled unfit to play, and Noah Dobson made his NHL playoff debut in his place with the Islanders again dressing seven defensemen. Dobson, who last played in exhibition action in late July, became the first player born in the 2000s to dress for the Islanders in a playoff game.

UP NEXT

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Western Conference-champion Dallas Stars is Saturday night.

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Isles stay alive: Eberle seals 2-1 2OT win over Lightning

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Islanders forward Jordan Eberle knew exactly what to do upon seeing teammate and captain Anders Lee pounce on the loose puck once Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk whiffed on his shot from the right point.

Eberle raced up the middle, drove to the net and converted Lee’s pass to cap a two-on-one break and keep the Islanders’ playoff hopes alive. The goal, scored 12:30 into the second overtime, sealed a 2-1 win over the Lightning in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference final series Tuesday night.

“Things happen quick out there. You’ve got to react. You see the fanned shot. You see Leesy poke it by,” said Eberle, who scored his second winner of the postseason. “You’ve played this game a long time, you know when you have odd-man rushes and an opportunity is about to come. Leesy made a heck of a play to get the puck over to me.”

The sixth-seeded Islanders cut the second-seeded Lightning series lead to 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Thursday night. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final and face West champion Dallas, which eliminated Vegas in five games on Monday night.

Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock also scored and Semyon Varlamov capped a 36-save outing by skating the length of the ice and making a head-first dive into the pile of players mobbing Eberle.

“I don’t know. I just jumped because I was so excited for us,” Varlamov said of his celebration. “When we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through in that moment. I was just happy for the guys, so happy for us. We have a chance to continue to play.”

Relief had something to do with it, too, in a game the Islanders were limited to 24 shots, and no more than six in a period. And they weathered killing off a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking called against Anthony Beauvillier with 1:23 left in regulation.

The goal came off the Lightning winning a faceoff to the left of the Islanders net. The puck was drawn back to Shattenkirk, who fanned on the shot. It dribbled to Lee, who banked the puck off the sideboards to get around Shattenkirk.

“It took the stars aligning on a fanned shot for them to get the break they got,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We had opportunities to put the game away.“

Victor Hedman scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots.

The Lightning were minus co-leading playoff scorer Brayden Point, who had a goal and assist in a 4-1 win in Game 4 after missing a 5-3 loss in Game 3 with an undisclosed injury. Tampa Bay’s other co-leader, Nikita Kucherov, was shaken up eight minutes into the second period Tuesday, but returned and had several scoring chances in the third period and overtime.

Cooper called it “hard to tell right now” as to whether Point will be able to play Thursday.

One thing Hedman was sure of, is knowing the Lightning will bounce back.

“It came down to one play. It’s tough for us obviously, but this is hockey,” Hedman said. “It’s how you respond to this that’s going to define you as a team. I’m not worried about how our group’s going to respond to this.”

The Islanders opened the scoring 15:41 in on Pulock’s power-play goal, just their second in 15 opportunities this series.

The Lightning responded with Hedman tying the game 4 minutes into the second period.

Tampa Bay’s Carter Verhaeghe had a goal overturned 10:01 into the second period, when the Islanders challenged the play for being offside. Replays showed Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette clearly entered New York’s zone well ahead of the puck.

The Lightning dropped to 4-1 in overtime games this postseason, including a 5-4 5OT win over Columbus in Game 1 of their first-round series.

The Islanders continue to persevere in being the only team left that played a best-of-five preliminary round series, and showed signs of fatigue in opening the series against Tampa Bay with an 8-2 loss.

New York’s offense has fizzled in managing just 11 goals against Tampa Bay, including a 5-3 win in Game 3. The Islanders had combined for 28 goals in their previous eight games.

Coach Barry Trotz shook up his lines Tuesday, shifting Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders’ top line alongside Lee and Barzal. Clutterbuck took the spot of Eberle, who opened the game alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Matt Martin.

“Our guys didn’t waver — they just kept grinding,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We didn’t give up and that’s a great sign for moving forward.”

NOTES: Isles D Johnny Boychuk returned after sustaining a head injury in the third period of a playoff-opening 2-1 win over Florida on Aug. 1. … Boychuk had an eventful first period. He was doubled over in pain after getting struck by Nikita Kucherov’s shot six minutes in. In the final minute of the first period, Boychuk’s skate blade broke, and he had difficulty getting to the bench, after blocking Hedman’s shot from the left point. … Hedman’s goal was his eighth, the most by a defenseman in the playoffs since Brian Leetch scored 11 for the 1994 Cup-winning New York Rangers.

UP NEXT

Game 6 is Thursday night at 8 p.m. EDT.

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Stars on to Stanley Cup Final after 3-2 OT win over Vegas

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Jamie Benn and Dallas enjoyed the moment so much that the relative silence was pretty much an afterthought.

The Stars are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.

“I’ve been in a couple rinks where we’ve clinched to go to the finals, and it erupts,” interim coach Rick Bowness said. “Tonight, you’re so excited, you don’t even notice. … All you’re thinking about is your team.”

A team with a chance to win an even bigger trophy. Benn, the captain of the Stars, didn’t even touch the Western Conference championship trophy during the postgame presentation after they eliminated top-seeded Vegas 3-2 in overtime Monday night in the NHL bubble in Edmonton.

Denis Gurianov scored on a one-timer during a power play 3:36 into overtime for the Stars, who won their only Stanley Cup in 1999, a year before returning and coming up short. Benn and Joel Kiviranta, a rookie like Gurianov, had goals in the final 10:06 of regulation to tie Game 5 of the Western Conference Final.

“It’s been a crazy year, right from the start, but we’ve stuck together as a group, and played some fun hockey,” said Benn, who had never before been past the second round of the playoffs. “We find ways to win right now, and that’s all that matters.”

Anton Khudobin faced only one shot in overtime and had 34 saves for the Stars, who are 5-0 in overtime this postseason.

“We always know that it might take the whole game,” Tyler Seguin said. “We’re a confident group.”

The Stars also won 3-2 in Game 3 against Vegas, when Alexander Radulov scored 31 seconds into OT. They closed out Game 5 after Zach Whitecloud was sent off for delay of game for knocking the puck out of play.

“Things like that happen and they happen to anyone,” said Reilly Smith, who put Vegas up 2-0 in the third period. “This game didn’t come down to one play. The onus is on all of us. We have to do a better job when we’re up 2-0.”

Smith’s first goal in 11 games came just 15 seconds into the third, converting a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. That was at the end of an odd-man rush that followed Lehner’s kick save at the other end on a shot by Seguin.

“This game, a lot like the rest of the series, we just could never get that next goal to extend it. It was 2-0, they got the 2-1 goal,” Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said. “You have to give them credit. They won the net fronts in both ends.”

Dallas finally got on the board when Benn scored for the third game in a row. Esa Lindell had the puck behind the net after Benn won a faceoff, then pushed it out front off Radulov’s stick before Benn turned and knocked it in.

Seguin had a one-timer from the middle of the left circle with the Stars on a power play with just over five minutes left. Lehner secured the puck, not allowing a rebound chance for Benn, who was just in front of him.

Still skating with the man advantage, Kiviranta converted a quick backhander off a loose puck after defenseman John Klingberg’s long shot into traffic. It was the first point for Kiviranta since his hat trick with the overtime winner in the Game 7 against Colorado in the second round.

After the Golden Knights failed to score on three power-play opportunities in the second, Smith’s goal gave them a two-goal lead when Khudobin was unable to stop an another quick shot — like he had in the opening minute in each of the first two periods.

Chandler Stephenson got the lead for Vegas 8:14 into the first, using a forehand-backhand move to get the puck under and through Khudobin’s legs. Stephenson was on the break in front of the Stars defense after a nice pass from Shea Theodore.

After Stephenson scored, the Golden Knights had some of their biggest hits in the series. Ryan Reaves took down Blake Comeau midway through the first, and a few minutes later slammed Lindell hard into the boards.

In between those jarring hits, Vegas came close to getting another goal. Alec Martinez tried a wraparound shot to Khudobin’s left and Mark Stone had a rebound that led to another one — but Lindell knocked down Max Pacioretty could get his stick on the puck.

“I didn’t think that any game we kind of gave away,” Stephenson said. “It seemed like we did everything right but score.”

NOTES: Paul Stastny took a shot right at the start of the second period for Vegas, but Khudobin was able to put his glove down. In the opening seconds of the game, Nate Schmidt’s one-timer was gloved by Khudobin, who was partially screened and still made the save. ,,, Seguin had two blocks only seconds apart on the first Vegas power play in the second period. … Benn and Gurianov also had good scoring chances in the second. But Benn stuffed his stick and the puck into the right skate of a sprawling Lehner. Gurianov had a shot off Lehner’s upper body that then ricocheted off and over the crossbar.

UP NEXT

The Stars wait to find out who and when they play in the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay has a 3-1 series lead over the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Final. Game 5 of that series is Tuesday night.

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Bailey helps Islanders rally to beat Capitals 4-2 in Game 1

TORONTO (AP) — Islanders coach Barry Trotz isn’t surprised the Washington Capitals, his former team, is unhappy with Anders Lee.

Trotz didn’t see anything wrong with Lee’s play in a 4-2 first-round series playoff-opening victory in which the New York captain set the tone with a big hit on Capitals play-making forward Nicklas Backstrom, and then scored a key goal in the Islanders rallying from a 2-0 deficit Wednesday.

“Playoff hockey should be right up Anders’ wheelhouse, if you will,” Trotz said. “He’s big. He’s strong. He scored an important goal. He had a hit. And he responded to (Tom) Wilson’s challenge. What more can you ask from a leader.”

Lee wound up getting into two fights, the first with defenseman John Carlson immediately after bowling over Backstrom with a heavy hit 2 1/2 minutes in. Then he fought Wilson later in the period in being targeted for the hit, which led to Backstrom not returning after seven shifts.

Capitals coach Todd Reirden didn’t have an update on Backstrom’s status, but called Lee’s hit “late” and “predatory.”

Carlson was more blunt in calling Lee’s hit as appearing “real dirty to me.”

Lee was penalized for interference after a shoulder-to-shoulder hit, in which Backstrom appeared to be looking the other way and didn’t have the puck.

“I tried to throw the brakes on a little bit there, but I caught him,” Lee said. “The end result after that was a penalty, a couple of fights. It was settled and then the game continued on.”

Jordan Eberle and Lee tied it at 2 by scoring 1:54 apart spanning the second intermission. Josh Bailey scored the go-ahead goal with the Islanders shorthanded 6:52 into the third period.

And Anthony Beauvillier capped a four-goal outburst in a game the Islanders overcame their own lack of discipline in allowing the Capitals seven power-play opportunities.

T.J. Oshie scored on consecutive power-play opportunities five minutes apart in the second period for Washington.

“I think we just give then breath,” Alex Ovechkin said. “That goal at the end (of the second period) obviously give them a little breath. But in the third period we can’t start like that.”

Eberle began the comeback by scoring on a snapshot from the high slot with 63 seconds left in the second period. Lee tied the game 51 seconds into the third by converting a rebound in front, and after Braden Holtby stopped Ryan Pulock’s blast from the right point.

Bailey and Brock Nelson caught the Capitals’ power-play napping in scoring the go-ahead goal, and Leo Komarov off for high-sticking.

Nelson began the play by lobbing the puck high into the air from the Washington blue line. He then raced in and disrupted Holtby’s bid to play the puck. Nelson then stripped Ovechkin in the corner before centering to a wide-open Bailey in front, from where he fired it inside the left post.

Semyon Varlamov stopped 24 shots for the Islanders who eliminated the Florida Panthers in four games of their best-of-five preliminary round series last week.

The Metropolitan Division champion Capitals were coming off a sluggish performance in a preliminary round-robin tournament in which they finished 1-1-1, managed just five goals and closed with a 2-1 win over Boston on Sunday.

“We just move on,” Ovechkin said. “Nothing you can do right now. We just going to learn from our mistakes.”

Carlson had two assists in returning after missing three preliminary round games with an injury and Holtby stopped 23 shots.

In having to kill off three power-play opportunities in the first period, the Islanders matched a franchise playoff low for shots in being outshot 7-2 over the first 20 minutes. New York managed two shots in one period twice before in the playoffs, both times against Washington in 1984 and ’85.

“We don’t want to be on the penalty kill if we can help it, and that wasn’t our intention that’s for sure,” said Trotz, in his second year with the Islanders after coaching the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup in 2018. “We’ll play five on five with anybody in the league, but I don’t want to give that power play anything. I’ve seen it up close for four years. they’re dangerous.”

NOTES: Isles D Johnny Boychuk took the pre-game skate but missed his fourth consecutive game since being shouldered to the head by Panthers D Mike Matheson in Game 1 … Beauvillier extended his point streak to five games, in which he has four goals and two assists. … Before the game, the Capitals unveiled grey hoodies with a “ We Skate For EQUALITY ” printed on the front around a team logo, and worn by Holtby, Ovechkin and Carlson.

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NHL, players announce labor deal, plan to resume play Aug. 1

The NHL is in position to resume playing in less than a month — with 24 teams in action, all in Canada — and could be on the verge of enjoying labor peace through 2026.

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association on Monday announced a tentative deal on a return-to-play format and a memorandum of understanding on a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement.

Should both agreements be ratified, the NHL would proceed immediately to its expanded 24-team playoff format, with play beginning on Aug. 1. Under the plan, training camps would open July 13, with teams traveling to their respective hub cities for exhibition games on July 26.

The hub cities are Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, for the qualifying round and at least first two playoff rounds, according to a person with direct knowledge of the agreements who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league and NHLPA have not released this information.

For the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final, the person said, the league is being cautious and allowing itself site flexibility in the event of potential spikes in COVID-19 infections.

Extending the CBA, which was set to expire in September 2022, was considered a necessary step in restarting the season, which was placed on pause in March as a result of the pandemic. The extension covers numerous on- and off-ice issues, including the NHL’s potential return to the Olympics, the person said.

If approved, players would be in a position to compete at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 and in Italy four years later. In order for that to happen, the NHL would first have to resolve marketing rights and health insurance, among otehr issues, with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation.

The NHL, NHLPA and IIHF had what were called productive talks earlier this year. The NHL participated in five consecutive Olympics from 1998-2014 before skipping 2018 in South Korea.

Financially, the CBA extension would attempt to address the lost revenue stemming from the remainder of the regular season being wiped out and with empty arenas looming for the playoffs.

Players would defer 10% of salaries next season which owners would pay back over three consecutive seasons starting in 2022-23, a second person familiar with the proposed agreement told The AP. The salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for at least next season, the person said, also speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the details have not been released.

Escrow payments to owners to even out hockey-related revenue at 50/50 would be capped at 20% next season, with the cap decreasing throughout the deal, the second person said. If owners are still owed money from the players, the CBA would be extended for an additional season. Escrow has been one of the biggest complaints of players in the past several years.

The agreements need two-thirds approval by owners.

On the union side, the agreements must first be approved by a majority of the NHLPA’s 31-member executive committee before going to a vote to the full membership. The executive committee is expected to make its recommendation by the end of day Tuesday; if approved, the players would be expected to complete their voting process by Friday.

Over the weekend, the league and players agreed to an extensive series of return-to-play protocols involving training camp and games. Players will be allowed to opt out of competing in the expanded playoffs, and will have three days to make their decision once the agreement is ratified.

Should the league push ahead, the matchups are already known: The top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West) play a handful of round-robin games to determine seeding.

Those top seeds then face the winners of eight opening-round, best-of-five series: No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens; No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers; No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers; No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets; No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks; No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes; No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild; and the No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets.

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NHL not planning to quarantine players for training camps

Jason Spezza’s confidence in the NHL returning has not been shaken by word of 11 fellow players testing positive for the coronavirus.

Given his involvement in NHL Players’ Association talks, the veteran Toronto forward knew from doctors’ input there would be positive test results in hockey just as there have been in other sports as group workouts ramp up across North America.

Those very well may continue to happen with training camps scheduled to open July 10, yet deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed Thursday the league and NHLPA are not considering putting teams in quarantined “bubbles” for those mandatory sessions. Instead, players are being instructed to stay home when not at the rink, with the hope that frequent testing and health protocols will prevent any outbreaks before, hopefully, games resume in two “hub” cities in late July.

“I’m pretty confident that once we get into hub cities, we’ll be able to do a good job of keeping it out,” Spezza said. “I think getting there is going to be the challenge, and that’s where it takes a little bit of discipline for us as players to make sure we don’t kind of derail the plans.”

The league and players are still working to finalize a return-to-play agreement that would entail a 24-team playoff to award the Stanley Cup. It’s understood that players, coaches and staff would be quarantined from the general public for the duration of the playoffs and tested regularly.

Until arriving in one of those cities as early as July 23 or 24, players and their families are still out in the real world and face the risk of exposure.

“You have a whole bunch of people in close proximity to each other for prolonged periods of time, they may be traveling together exposed to other individuals that you don’t know who they’ve been exposed to,” Atrium Health medical director of infection prevention Katie Passaretti said. “Any time you’re bringing groups together and then sending them back out into the world, there’s potential for further spread if one of those individuals was asymptotically infected or early in the stages of symptomatic infection.”

The U.S. recorded 34,500 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, just shy of the peak of infections set in late April.

“There’s lots of people everywhere testing positive,” said Spezza, who’s in his 17th NHL season. “Us as players, we realize there’s going to be some risk of a positive test, especially in the phases that we’re in right now.”

Voluntary workouts of up to six players on the ice at a time were able to begin June 8, with that limit increased to 12 this week amid stringent safety protocols. In other sports, Major League Baseball closed its training facilities in Florida and Arizona, and the NFLPA told its members to stop private workouts in light of rising coronavirus numbers in some places.

The Tampa Bay Lightning closed their facilities last week after three players and additional staff tested positive. The NHL announced 11 positives among more than 200 players tested.

“It’s definitely eye-opening to hear, but at the same time, looking back going into it, you certainly expect that to pop up,” Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said. “You see more and more cases popping up across the league and that’s to be expected, as well. But at the same time, it’s still a little nerve-wrecking.”

Two weeks away from the scheduled start of camps and less than a month from when games might begin, some players still have questions.

“Obviously health and safety is the biggest,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. “Being able to come to a situation where you don’t have to worry about contracting COVID-19 is huge. To ‘bubble’ the players and feel safe in your work environment is going to be probably the most paramount.”

Players are expected to be tested daily once competition starts, and they will be isolated with each other. Even with frequent testing during camps, it seems to be incumbent on players, coaches, staff and those around them to be particularly vigilant away from hockey.

“As everything around us starts opening up, we almost have to tighten up because we’re going back to play,” Spezza said. “We have to be probably a little more careful as we get closer to training camp here.”

One concern is for coaches and executives in the older age range that makes them more vulnerable to the virus. The Canadiens said 60-year-old coach Claude Julien intends on being behind the bench because “he has full confidence in the league’s ability to set in place the security measures necessary to ensure the safety of it all.”

Training camp, when upwards of 30 players will be together, is the first test of those procedures.

“I think everybody’s doing the best possible job they can to put everyone in the best position to stay healthy, and that’s the No. 1 priority is health and safety of the players and everyone else involved,” Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray said. “Nothing is going to be perfect.”

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Robert Kraft expresses approval of Brady’s contract

Owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, told The Athletic today that he is perfectly okay with Tom Brady’s contract as it stands today, which continues his run with the Patriots through the 2019 season.

Brady has previously renewed his contract on five different occasions. Four of those contracts were renewed two years ahead of their respective expiry date; the fifth was only signed a year later than anticipated due to Brady’s 2008 knee injury.

Kraft has been downplaying rumors of Brady’s career coming to a close by asserting that his dejected demeanor in recent press appearances is simply because of the close Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“When you lose,” Kraft told The Athletic, “the feeling of losing [overtakes] the [joy] of winning. I think Tommy is in that category.”

Kraft also told the website of Brady’s intentions on retiring, in that they will heavily be influenced by his family situation rather than his age. “He’ll be 41 when the season starts. Neither side has an issue with it. If it becomes an issue, we’ll deal with it.”

Brady supplements his team’s assertions with his own interviews; he said in a recent interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his family will be a large determining factor in the date of his retirement.

“I think as long as he feels he is like that,” Kraft said, referring to Brady’s success on the Patriots and his lucrative career, “he’ll keep playing.”

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Blackhawks to make major changes after first round sweep

Chicago Blackhawks head coach, Stan Bowman, promised that changes were going to be made to the organization.

Bowman and the Blackhawks were eliminated from the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs. This is the second year in a row that the Chicago Blackhawks have been eliminated in the first round. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015 and had high hopes for the 2017 season. They ended the season with a 50-23-9 record, accrued the most points of any team in the Western Conference and won the Central Division. They were considered a favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and a heavy favorite to defeat their first round opponent, the Nashville Predators. After being swept by Nashville, however, Bowman promised that every part of the organization was on the table except for head coach, Joel Quenneville, who will return next year. Blackhawks players and fans alike appreciated the message after being the first number one seed to be swept from the playoffs in the first round since 1994 when the NHL adopted the best of seven first round playoff format.

“Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves,” said Bowman on Saturday. “We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that’s unacceptable. Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It’s not close to good enough for anybody. And I think it’s time right now to take a look in the mirror and face facts.”