NHL, NHLPA reach agreement to start 56-game season in January

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The NHL and NHL Players Association have reached a tentative agreement on a 56-game season scheduled to start on Jan. 13.

The NHL confirmed the agreement which is pending an official approval by the league's board of governors, the NHL Players Association and Canadian health officials. All dates are subject to change as the proposed NHL season format and schedule go through the approval process.

Health protocols still remain an issue for Canadian NHL teams even with the formation of an all-Canada division, but the league believes it can reach an agreement with provinces by Monday.

“The Government of Canada’s priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada's measures to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19," a spokesman for the Canada Public Health Agency said in a statement. "NHL teams and other professional sports must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events."

The NHL has realigned teams into a division-only format, including an all-Canadian division proposed as a result of the current U.S./Canada border restrictions.

"The biggest challenge is making sure that our players and supporting personnel are safe and healthy and making sure that we're not doing anything that puts the communities in which we're playing at risk either in terms of spreading COVID or taking medical resources, whether it's testing or vaccinations," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"We understand what is vitally important to each community and to the health and welfare of each community, and we don't want to do anything that would interfere with that. But everything that we're doing and working on with the Players' Association starts with keeping the players and the communities in which we play safe and healthy."

Players have the option to opt-out for the upcoming season if the player or an immediate family member is considered high-risk. For any player who opts-out, the team has the option of adding an extra year to the contract.

The league will set a 23-man roster limit for the 2020-2021 season and a $81.5 million salary cap. In addition to the 23-man roster, each team will be able to have a 4-6 man taxi squad with a maximum of 29 players, who will be paid full AHL salary.