Tria Rink in St. Paul is getting busier.
After only a handful reported for voluntary workouts at the Wild’s practice facility last month, players were split into two groups Wednesday for training since there were too many on hand for one session.
“It’s been good to get on the ice with everybody,” said winger Zach Parise, one of the latest additions.
But this surge in participation isn’t the only sign the NHL could be close to resuming the season.
Players are currently voting on the league’s return-to-play plan and an extension for the collective bargaining agreement after the NHL Players’ Association’s executive board approved sending the terms to a membership vote.
A verdict is expected to be announced Friday and if passed, training camp would open Monday and the action would kick off Aug. 1 in two hub cities.
“I feel like it will [pass],” Parise said, “but I can’t say for certain. I just don’t know. I feel like it will.”
Parise had yet to cast his vote when he spoke on a video conference call Wednesday afternoon, but he did identify the issues that will factor into his deliberations.
He said players were worried about the salary cap and escrow, the percentage of players’ salaries withheld to ensure players and teams reach a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue.
In the proposed CBA, escrow is reported to start at 20% for next season with the salary cap staying flat at $81.5 million.
“One of the big concerns with the players is the escrow and what’s going to happen there,” Parise said. “We were hearing if we don’t play, people were saying it’s going to be 60 to 80 percent for the next year or foreseeable future, and I know that alarmed a lot of different players.”
Aside from the financial fallout, Parise said the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down the league March 12, was in the back of everyone’s minds.
Earlier this week, the NHL announced 23 positive tests for COVID-19 among players training at club facilities and another 12 positive tests from those not skating at team rinks. Parise noticed the precautions the league is taking firsthand when he began training at Tria Rink this week, with testing, temperature checks and masks now part of players’ routine.
Still, NHL players can opt out of the remainder of the season under the return-to-play plan on the table.
“We just have to accept that this thing, it’s going to be around and they’re giving you the option,” Parise said. “I’m not sure anyone’s going to take it, but they’re giving players the option if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to. And I think that’s a good way to look at it. If you don’t want to play and if you don’t want to do things, then don’t do them.”
Although Parise doesn’t believe many players will choose to sit out, he said he’d respect a teammate’s decision to do so.
“We all want to make sure our wives and kids are safe and healthy,” he said.
“That’s the most important thing. So if someone decides for that reason they don’t want to go, then you support them 100 percent. That’s their every right to do that.”
If the season does proceed, the Wild will take on the Canucks in a best-of-five qualifying series to advance to the playoffs.
While Parise said the skates at Tria Rink still feel like summer sessions, he expects the intensity to increase once camp begins — a tuneup for an opportunity Parise figures the NHL has to boost its profile.
“Right now hockey could really take advantage of the situation with everyone, at least everyone I’m talking to, just dying to see some sports on TV,” Parise said. “Everyone’s been stuck inside with nothing to watch, no sports. I think if done right, we could really increase our fan base. We could take advantage of this, which at the end of the day would be very good for the league.”