What we learned from the NHL’s tentative return-to-play deal

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The NHL still isn’t officially back — but it’s getting close

The league and its players’ association took another step in the right direction Sunday when they reached a tentative agreement on the return-to-play protocols for training camps and the expanded 24-team playoff tournament.

These protocols include stuff like COVID-19 testing procedures, other health and safety measures and lifestyle arrangements for those living inside the “bubbles” that will be created in the two “hub” cities. Those are still expected to be Edmonton and Toronto, barring something crazy happening.

Without getting too deep into the weeds, here are three things that stand out from what’s been reported about the agreement:

  • Everyone in the bubbles — players, coaches, equipment guys, refs, cooks, bartenders, bus drivers, etc., — will be tested for COVID-19 every day (by nasal swab). Each team is allowed to bring 52 people into the bubble. So, as TSN’s Frank Seravalli notes in his detailed breakdown of the tentative agreement, this works out to 1,248 tests per day for team personnel alone. Throw in all the bubble workers, and he figures you’re looking at 2,000-plus tests a day — though it would decrease as teams get eliminated. In related news, the NHL announced today that 396 players (about half the number that will participate in the playoffs) have now been tested as part of the optional workouts being held at team facilities. Twenty-three of them (5.8 per cent) have tested positive. The NHL also said it’s “aware of” 12 other players who have tested positive outside of its program since workouts began. 

  • Both the league and the players have the power to call off games if there’s an “uncontrolled outbreak” that threatens the health and safety of those in the bubble. There doesn’t seem to be a specific definition of an “uncontrolled outbreak,” but it would have to be fairly sizable. The plan for a positive test (or even multiple ones on the same team) is to remove and isolate the infected player(s) until they’re healthy and keep the games rolling.

  • Players are allowed to opt out for any reason. They presumably won’t be paid for the time they miss, but there won’t be any penalties like suspensions or loss of service time. The deadline for telling your team you’re opting out is three days after the deal is ratified.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to reporters that a tentative deal has been reached on the protocols, but we still haven’t seen an official announcement from the league and the players’ union. That’s because the sides are still working on finalizing an extension to their collective bargaining agreement that will account for the massive economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the league.

Once they iron out the money stuff, they’ll present the full package to the owners and players for approval. Two-thirds of the owners have to vote for it, and also a majority of both the players’ association’s executive committee and full membership. That shouldn’t be a problem, but the voting process isn’t expected to be completed until late this week.

If everything goes smoothly, training camps will open July 13 for the 24 teams invited to the playoffs. After that, they’ll travel to their assigned hub city (reportedly Edmonton for the Western Conference teams, Toronto for the East) on July 26 for a few days’ worth of practice and exhibition games. The playoffs will start Aug. 1, and the Stanley Cup will be awarded in October. Read more about the NHL’s return-to-play talks here.

Quickly…

The Jays are back in town. Well, most of them. The team flew into Toronto last night and hoped to do its first workout at the Rogers Centre today. But an unclear number of players and staff reportedly stayed behind in Florida after a player tested positive for COVID-19 at the Jays’ spring-training facility. Under the Jays’ deal with the Canadian government for holding their training camp in Toronto, the player and those he had direct contact with will have to produce two negative tests before they join their teammates in Toronto.

Two former Cy Young Award winners opted out of the baseball season. The L.A. Dodgers’ David Price and Atlanta’s Felix Hernandez are the biggest names to do so to date. Reigning AL MVP Mike Trout has expressed doubts about playing because his wife is expecting their first child, but he took part in the Angels’ workouts over the weekend while wearing an N95 mask. Trout’s concerns are understandable given some of the news emerging from the first few days of camps.

Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, who’s probably the most articulate active ballplayer, said on Twitter yesterday that the players on his team are “diligently following protocols” but still haven’t received the personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, etc.) they were promised. Doolittle also complained that it’s taking forever for test results to come back, and today the Nationals cancelled their workout because they still haven’t received their results from Friday. The team they beat in last year’s World Series, the Houston Astros, did the same thing today for the same reason. Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Major League Baseball is not exactly a well-oiled machine right now. And the season is supposed to start in two and a half weeks. Read more about baseball’s bumpy return here.

Another jacked golfer is terrorizing the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods made it cool for golfers to start training like actual athletes (which they are, by the way) and buff Brooks Koepka took it up another notch by pounding his way to four major titles over the last three years. Now a beefed-up Bryson DeChambeau is overpowering courses. He came out of the pandemic hiatus looking like a linebacker after packing on 40 (healthy) pounds to get his 6-foot-1 frame up to 240. The 26-year-old American leads the tour in driving distance (up from 34th last year) and he combined his newfound power with smooth putting to win by three strokes yesterday in Detroit. DeChambeau averaged 351 yards on his drives last week, including a 367-yard bomb on his final hole to seal the victory. Since the tour returned, he’s finished in the top eight in all four tournaments. Read more about DeChambeau’s win in Detroit and how he changed his body here.

Eleven of the 12 WNBA teams are arriving at their bubble today. While most of the league settles into the IMG Academy property in Bradenton, Fla., the Indiana Fever are staying back for a few days. The team said that two of its players were among the seven around the league who tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week (137 players were tested, according to the WNBA). A 22-game season (down from 36) is scheduled to begin on July 24. Read more about the WNBA’s positive tests here.

The National Women’s Soccer League tournament is going according to plan so far. The Challenge Cup looked to be in trouble before it began when the Orlando Pride had to drop out because of multiple positive tests. But the event kicked off on time with the remaining eight teams, and no one else has tested positive. The North Carolina Courage look poised to win their third consecutive NWSL title after starting a perfect 3-0-0. They’re the only team with an unblemished record. North Carolina’s Lynn Williams leads all scorers in the tournament with three goals, even though she went scoreless in yesterday’s 1-0 win over Chicago. Matches resume Wednesday, and the round-robin stage wraps up a week from today. All eight teams will advance to the single-elimination knockout round, which begins July 17.

And finally…

The Kansas City Chiefs locked up Patrick Mahomes for a longggggggg time. That’s a good idea when you have a 24-year-old quarterback who already has a regular-season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP award under his belt, and the potential to become the greatest QB of all time. And the Chiefs, apparently, weren’t about to fool around. They’ve reportedly agreed with Mahomes on a 10-year extension (unusually long for football) that ties him to the team through the 2031 season (he still has two years left on his rookie deal). This story broke right before our publish time, and no dollar figures had been reported yet, but there’s no doubt it will be the richest contract in NFL history. Read more about Mahomes’ big deal here.

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