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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.”

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Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns at age 35

Talented goaltender Ray Emery, who played for four NHL teams over 11 seasons, drowned early Sunday while swimming at a yacht club in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Hamilton Police tweeted that Emery’s body was recovered from the city’s harbor shortly before 3 p.m., near where he was last seen approximately nine hours earlier.

The Hamilton Spectator reported that Emery was with a group of people on a friend’s boat when they decided to jump in the water.

“They went out for a swim and unfortunately he did not emerge after diving in,” Hamilton Police Inspector Martin Schulenberg told the Spectator. “Unfortunately, our efforts on the water and in the area just around the piers were met with negative results.”

The most memorable moment from that season is Emery’s fight against Buffalo Sabres goalie Martin Biron, a scrap that earned him 22 penalty minutes, including not one, but two five-minute majors for fighting.

Emery struggled to control his temper and his career was marked by several confrontations with teammates and coaches. There was also an incident of road rage, assault of a trainer in Russia and behavior that led to him being sent home from Ottawa’s training camp.

In September 2017, Emery was arrested and accused of assaulting his ex-fiancee, singer Keshia Chante, over three months between July and September 2016.

Notably, Emery’s name was entered on the Stanley Cup in 2013 as a member of the champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The achievement was all the more remarkable considering that four years earlier, Emery had been diagnosed with avascular necrosis, the same serious hip ailment that ended two-sport star Bo Jackson’s career.

The cause of Emery’s drowning remains under investigation.

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Red Wings settle 2-year, $7M contract with Mantha

The Red Wings have announced the move to extend a $6.6 million deal for 2 years with the restricted free agent Wednesday, retaining the 23-year-old wing after he led the team with 24 goals last season.

“He had a good year, we need him to take a step, he’s got that potential, that ability,” Holland said. “Once you play 100 games you get a good idea what this league is all about. He’s got a good idea what he needs to do in the summer to take his game to another level.”

Mantha had 48 points in 80 games last season. He has 43 goals and 44 assists in two-plus seasons with the Red Wings. Detroit drafted him 20th overall in 2013.

“When he scored 80 goals his last year in juniors (including playoffs), he scored lots of goals off the rush,” general manager Ken Holland said after the season. “He’d come down and shoot the puck in the net. That’s not this league. There are guys who score 40, 40-plus, but it’s a hard league. He went to the American League and he’s learned to cycle more, learned to be heavier on the puck, learned to compete harder.

Mantha told reporters of the Detroit Free Press, “You want to play playoff hockey, you want to be winning, you want to have fun with the group of guys around the dressing room, with the coaching staff and even the owners.

He added, “We need to step it up next year. We want to have fun while winning and that’s going to be our main goal. I didn’t reach the goals I wanted personally and as a team also we didn’t reach them, but just, in general, I think it’s been a big learning year for me and I took steps forward.”

The Red Wings re-signed restricted free agent Andreas Athanasiou last year with a two-year contract.

Their next task is completing negotiations with restricted free agent Dylan Larkin on a multiyear contract.

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Penguins win third consecutive game, beat Devils 2-0

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been on a bit of a roll lately, and are headed into the all-star break with a three-game winning a streak after a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils last night.

Sidney Crosby and big offseason acquisition Phil Kessel both scored for the Penguins, and Marc-Andre Fleury got his 42nd career shutout.

Not only are the Penguins on a three-game winning streak after beating the Canucks and Flyers as well, but they are a solid 9-3-4 in their last 16 games. The Devils’ own five-game streak ended with the loss.

Crosby scored on the power play in the first period and Kessel scored in the second, and the Penguins relied on Fleury to hold the fort the rest of the way. He made 25 saves on the night.

The win resulted in the Penguins leap-frogging over the Devils for the last wild card slot. Both teams have 55 points, but the Penguins have the edge because they have played two fewer games.

Kessel, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, was supposed to make the Pittsburgh offense the most feared in the East, presenting a positively lethal power play with Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. However, this is only the fourth time Crosby and Kessel have scored in the same game, and the Penguins have scored just 121 goals this season, putting them ahead of just five other teams in the Eastern Conference — and four of them are at the very bottom of the standings.

However, the Penguins have looked better as of late as their latest winning streak shows — the question is whether it will carry through the rest of the season.

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Carolina Hurricanes pound Chicago Blackhawks 5-0

The high-flying Chicago Blackhawks are looking pretty vulnerable lately, getting shut out for the second time in three games Tuesday night.

The Blackhawks, who have a Western Conference-leading 70 points, lost 5-0 to the lowly Carolina Hurricanes. The team also lost 4-0 to the Florida Panthers a few nights before (with a 2-0 win over St. Louis sandwiched in between), bringing the team back down to Earth after winning 12 straight. Still, they hold a comfortable lead in the Western Conference.

The Blackhawks remained three points back of the NHL-leading Washington Capitals, despite having played seven more games.

Riley Nash scored two goals for the Hurricanes, and Jeff Skinner had a goal and assist as the Blackhawks couldn’t figure out how to score against the Carolina defense, and the reigning Stanley Cup champions pulled starting goaltender Corey Crawford for Scott Darling after allowing three goals.

Eddie Lack was the winning goaltender for Carolina, making 26 saves to backstop a victory. Crawford made 13 saves before Darling came in.

The Hurricanes are a hot team at the moment, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They have beaten the Blackhawks in both matchups this year.

The Hurricanes were fast out of the gate, scoring three goals with several minutes left in the first. Chicago was unable to get going, allowing another goal and failing to score one of their own by the time the horn sounded.

The Blackhawks played the first game of a four-game road trip. They will next visit the Colorado Avalanche, followed by the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars.

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Is Drouin destined for the Washington Capitals?

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin is in some hot water after demanding a trade and refusing to show up for an AHL game after he was sent down — but there is still demand on the market for him, and one of those teams could be the Washington Capitals.

The problem for Drouin, of course, is that the Lightning don’t appear to have any interest in acquiescing to his trade demands, sticking him in the minors and then suspending him when he didn’t show up for a game, according to a Stars and Sticks report.

Drouin, who is a former No. 3 overall draft pick, has lots of upside but has so far disappointed in his stint with the Lightning. Still, his caliber of talent is likely to attract some attention from teams looking for a forward with high upside as long as he comes at the right price.

In 89 games with the Lightning, Drouin has just 40 points, although he was often used in the bottom six as he never clicked with his coach. He was sent down to Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, which clearly did not make Drouin happy.

The Washington Capitals are the NHL’s No. 1 team in terms of standings points right now, but they might pick up the phone for the talented forward who is currently just 20 years old. If Tampa Bay decides it wants to get rid of Drouin and at least get something in return, the Capitals could get him at a bargain.

But there appears to be a strong possibility that’s going to happen — not this year, at least. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman doesn’t have any reason to flip him in a trade for too little because he isn’t even on an NHL roster, and the organization will likely be wary that teams will be looking to get him for cheap.

Fortunately, the Capitals have time to wait for Drouin to come on the market — so while it may not happen tomorrow, it could happen at some point.

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Jonathan Drouin wants out of Tampa Bay — will it happen?

The Tampa Bay Lighting had high hopes for left winger Jonathan Drouin after selecting him third overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but now he may be on the trading block.

Drouin was hampered with injuries during the 2014-15 season, and so far this year has two goals and six assists in 16 games before his agent officiallyr equested a trade from the organization, according to an ESPN report.

Still, that may not mean a trade is imminent. The Lightning is not keen to give away a top prospect unless they get value in return, even if they do wish to move Drouin.

Drouin is headed to AHL affiliate Syracuse after being reassigned, and if he doesn’t, he could be suspended. Even though the Lightning may want to be rid of him, they are not going to give him away for nothing.

Of course, Drouin has some cards in his deck due to the difficult situation the team faces with all-star captain Steven Stamkos. The team may be motivated to quickly move him and avoid a distraction during this whole process, but at the end of the day, Drouin doesn’t have much leverage, and going public may create a problem for his chances on finding another team, especially since he’s underwhelmed as a top prospect.

The Tampa Bay Lightning currently sit at fifth in the Atlantic division with a 19-16-4 record. They have been a .500 team as of late, winning 5 games while losing four along with one in overtime.