Brayden McNabb’s lifestyle has been “almost like retirement” the last three-plus months, and the Golden Knights defenseman is ready for that to change.
McNabb has enjoyed golfing, cooking and hanging out with his fiance and dog while the NHL’s season is paused. He wants to start playing hockey again, however, and he should get answers soon as to whether he’ll be able to.
McNabb said the NHL players association should vote on a return-to-play plan “pretty quick.” His comments echoed those of commissioner Gary Bettman, who said he hoped to have an agreement with the players “very, very quickly” during the draft lottery telecast Friday on NBC Sports Network.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” McNabb said. “I think everyone believes we’re going to play. I know as team we really want to play.”
McNabb said he hasn’t talked to anyone yet who doesn’t want to finish the NHL season. But he acknowledged the health risks that would come with returning to play are real. The league said Monday that 15 of the more than 250 players that have entered Phase Two of its return-to-play plan (small-group workouts) have tested positive for COVID-19.
An additional 11 players have tested positive outside of Phase Two.
So far, McNabb said he’s had a positive experience with the league’s safety protocols. He believes the Knights staff is doing an “outstanding” job keeping players healthy since Phase Two began this month.
McNabb said “almost every guy” on the team is participating in these skates. Those known to be taking part besides McNabb are Deryk Engelland, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Holden, Jonathan Marchessault, Jon Merrill, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves, Paul Stastny, Chandler Stephenson, Mark Stone and Shea Theodore.
“It’s good that we have a lot of guys here now skating,” McNabb said. “I think it’ll be an advantage.”
The players association will need to approve moving forward with the return-to-play plan for the Knights to use that edge. The union has to vote on safety guidelines for training camps, which are scheduled to begin July 10, and games as well. That includes what life will look like inside the NHL’s “bubble” in its still unannounced two hub cities.
McNabb said those discussions are still ongoing. All he knows is that the hub cities will likely have a “campus feel” and players’ families possibly won’t be allowed in for at least the first two rounds.
“Once we get into the bubble I think there’s probably no safer place to be, in my opinion,” McNabb said.
The players may also vote on the framework of a collective bargaining agreement extension at the same time. McNabb said the key issue for the union is escrow, the portion of each player’s salary that gets withheld to ensure a 50-50 split of hockey related-revenue with the owners.
Since COVID-19 cut the regular season short, escrow could skyrocket next season as the league tries to recoup some of the money it lost. A new CBA could allow the players to limit the damage or spread the pain across multiple seasons.
“If we can get somewhere we can agree upon, that would be great,” McNabb said. “There’s a lot of little things that have been discussed. A lot of stuff that’s going to need a little bit of ironing out.”
Then, if all those hurdles are cleared, McNabb and the Knights will get to play hockey again. It’s something the defenseman has looked forward to for a long time, because he thinks his team has the talent to go far if things pick back up.
”I think we’re very confident with the group we have and the players we have,” McNabb said. “We know when we play the right way we’re a very hard team to beat.”
Contact Ben Gotz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.