NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 22, 2020
Result of the NHLPA executive board vote on proposed return-to-play format is expected today, a closer look at what the proposed format could look like, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHLPA EXECUTIVE VOTES ON PROPOSED RETURN-TO-PLAY FORMAT
SPORTSNET: The National Hockey League Players’ Association executive board voted Thursday night the NHL’s proposed 24-team return-to-play tournament. The board is comprised of the 31 NHLPA player representatives. The result of the vote is expected by Friday evening.
The top-four teams in each conference qualify for the 16-team playoffs, receiving a bye from the 16-team, best-of-five play-in series. They will, however, play a three-game round-robin against each other to determine their final seedings.
“In the Eastern Conference, the opening round will play out like this:
• 5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays four seed)
• 6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers (winner plays three seed)
• 7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays two seed)
• 8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays one seed)
And the Western Conference opening round will play out like this:
• 5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago (winner plays four seed)
• 6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona (winner plays three seed)
• 7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota (winner plays two seed)
• 8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg (winner plays one seed)”
“Once the play-in tournament has concluded, the playoffs will be “bracketed” — similar to what is done in the NCAA tournament — meaning any of the top-four teams in the East or West could actually end up facing the lowest remaining seed following the play-in round. For example, the No. 4 seed could face No. 12 Montreal (in the event the Canadiens pulled off an upset over No. 5 Pittsburgh) while the No. 1 seed would be left with the winner of No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus.”
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports the 24 clubs will be determined by points percentage. “The top four in the East are Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia; in the West, it’s St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas.”
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the “NHLPA conference call tonight was spirited if not raucous. While exec committee voting won’t be finalized until Friday, some believe Don Fehr may already have or will get the mandate to accept NHL RTP plan but not overwhelmingly so.”
“Which is to suggest that even if there are enough votes to pass, it may still be a tough call. Emotional issue, as one might expect. We should have more clarity in the next 24 hours.”
Frank Seravalli reports the when, where, and how for the return-to-play plan and the host cities hasn’t been determined yet. NHL general managers have privately expressed frustration with bracketing the playoffs, with some suggesting the rounds should be reseeded. The top-tier clubs are complaining about clubs like Montreal and Chicago being allowed to reach the playoffs.
Developing a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan and the logistics of staging these games in two or four host cities still has to be sorted out. The NHL and NHLPA remain hopeful of implementing Phase 2 of their return-to-play program, which would see players engage in small-group training at their respective NHL facilities, after June 1.
Darren Dreger reports the NHL is leaning toward two hub cities. The province of Alberta is putting forth a major push for Edmonton to be one of those cities. Las Vegas is thought to be the front-runner, though there’s concern over the heat there in July and August whereas the average summer temperatures in Edmonton are more comfortable.
McKenzie said several NHL GMs feel a 24-team play-in format is a made-for-TV event with Chicago and the New York Rangers being involved. There are also questions over how the outcome of this tournament could affect the draft lottery.
NBC SPORTS: Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal raised concerns about the players being possibly isolated from their families for weeks under the proposed format. Carlson felt a 24-team tournament sounded like a lot, while Staal spoke of the many hurdles the league faces in pulling this off. Nevertheless, both players understand the challenges and seem willing to work with the league.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole is fully supportive of whatever decision is reached to return to action. “To be honest with you, I like to keep it simple: Whatever gets us back and playing, I’m 100 percent for. Whether that’s 16 teams, 24 teams — 30 teams, 31 teams — whatever gets us back and playing I’m 100 percent on board with,” Cole said.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin dismisses concerns over how a 24-team tournament might hurt the integrity of the NHL playoffs. He cites the NHL’s long history of wild, sometimes unfair formats.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This proposed format won’t please everyone and the NHLPA executive board could come back with some recommendations to adjust it. A number of players will have legitimate concerns about ensuring their health and safety and the long separations from their families.
Nevertheless, I anticipate the PA reps will vote to approve it, with the league board of governors giving their blessing soon afterward. The league and the PA will then shift their focus toward ironing out timelines, approving hub cities, and addressing the daunting logistics in staging this tournament.
I understand the concerns regarding the fairness of the proposed tournament and the integrity of the playoffs. But if the league can pull this off, those concerns will be forgotten. Even those hockey fans taking to social media proclaiming they’ll never watch it will probably find themselves drawn toward it, especially if it involves their favorite team.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE ATHLETIC: Michael Russo reports an NHL source indicates the league’s intention is “to agree on a slide with the NHL Players’ Association, which would uniformly extend all contracts through the end of the 2019-20 season.” That would also apply to minor-league players on two-way contracts. The league also hopes to do the same for coaches and other team employees on expiring contracts, but “(The) dynamic is different without collective representation.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, player contracts that would’ve expired on June 30 will be extended to the end of the proposed return-to-play format. That could be sometime in September.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman speculates we probably won’t see NHL training camps open before July.
WINNIPEG SUN: Winnipeg’s pro sports teams can reopen their training facilities under strict physical distancing guidelines.
PUCKPEDIA: Part three of their NHL player agents’ poll examines the best way to grow league revenue, whether there will be a lockout in 2022, and more.