Colorado Avalanche Update: Return to Play and CBA

The Colorado Avalanche concern themselves with Phase 2 while the NHL and NHLPA work on the Return to Play and CBA.

The Colorado Avalanche continue to work within Phase 2 of the NHL’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. More players have arrived in Denver to practice specifically in Pepsi Center in what are still voluntary practices.

Phase 3 is set to start July 10. That consists of training camp for two weeks. All players who will potentially play in the playoffs must attend training camp. It will take place in teams’ home cities.

Phase 4 is set to go into effect July 30. Teams will travel to their hub cities July 23-24, play some exhibition games, and start the round robin/qualification rounds July 30.

No official word has come from the NHL yet. However, it looks as if the two hub cities have been set, and they’re both in Canada. Specifically, they’re Toronto and Edmonton.

Coming into this week, three U.S. cities were still in contention — Las Vegas, LA, and Chicago. Vegas was the frontrunner, but their COVID-19 numbers have skyrocketed. LA hasn’t been much better. I’m not sure why Chicago was eliminated, but generally the coronavirus response in the U.S. has been seen to be… inadequate, to put it mildly, by the NHL.

B.C. and the NHL were unable to reach an agreement about contact tracing for COVID-19, so Vancouver withdrew from hub city contention. And that’s how we were left with Toronto and Edmonton.

Initially, TSN’s Elliotte Friedman had reported that, to avoid home team advantages, Western Conference teams would play in the Eastern Conference hub and vice versa. However, now it’s being reported that the West will be in the west and the East in the East.

I’m not sure why they seem to be choosing that strategy. But it’s Edmonton. They still need to get through the qualification round, so I’m not worried for Colorado’s sake.

Anyway, teams will stay at an Olympic-style village at the Ice District in Edmonton and at Toronto’s CNE grounds.

There has been some question about whether players actually want to return to play. Indeed, Eric Engels of Sportsnet reported that he’d spoken to an undisclosed, anonymous amount of players, and up to 75% do not want to return to play.

That information perplexed me because 100% of the interviews I’ve watched, the players stated they wanted to return. Since Engels didn’t give a figure on how many players he spoke to, and whether they were on playoff-contending teams, that information was hard to understand.

Our own Kyle Keefe of Altititude TV was similarly perplexed:

A fear for a virus, which is very real and valid, didn’t seem to coincide with the general milieu of NHL players. These are men who play through injuries and illnesses all the time. COVID-19 is different, and I’m not saying those are good decisions anyway, but I’m saying that’s what their mindset is like.

It became a lot clearer once it came out that Return to Play and the Collective Bargaining Agreement must go hand-in-hand. Negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA have been contentious for decades.

Players might be willing to play through a pandemic, but they’re not willing to do so for free. With the amount of money the NHL is losing with canceled games and no fan attendance in sight, escrow has the potential to balloon. Escrow, to put it extremely simply, is an agreement that the players will ensure a 50-50 split of profit and loss via their salaries.

Today is traditionally Free Agency Day, one of my favorite days of the year. It’s Free Agency Day because July 1 is officially the day when contracts expire. However, the COVID-19 crisis means we’re not even done with the season yet, so the pending free agents need to stay with their teams until we are.

So, the new CBA needed to at least be in the works by today. Right now, SportsNet is reporting that the new CBA will include the following provisions:

  • Fixed salary cap at the current $81.5 million for two years
  • Players’ salaries delinked from revenue for two years
  • 20% cap on escrow next year, decreases in the following years
  • Players defer 10% of their salary next year until a later date
  • Olympic participation in both 2022 and 2026

The league is also trying to restructure what contracts can look like so teams can’t cheat the salary cap.

Even with pending free agents needing contracts, the Colorado Avalanche are in a good spot with the stagnant salary cap.

Meanwhile, here are the Avalanche players at work at the Pepsi Center:

As best I can tell, Valeri Nichushkin and Pavel Francouz are the only Avalanche regular who may not have returned yet. They may even be in Denver and I haven’t been able to discern them from the grainy photos (that I’m so grateful to have) the Avs Twitter has sent out.

If everything goes according to plan, we should have Colorado Avalanche hockey by the end of the month. #IsItJuly30Yet?