NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – November 23, 2020
Latest return-to-play news plus updates on Max Domi, Nikita Zadorov, Jesse Puljujarvi and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox suggests hockey could return to normal by next September with coronavirus vaccines on the way. The NHL, meanwhile, is attempting to stage a shortened 2020-21 season with empty arenas, an all-Canadian division, a canceled All-Star break and playoffs that could finish in mid-July.
Talk of starting the season on Jan. 1 appears increasingly unlikely with each passing day. The pandemic is hitting rates in some American states not seen elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, the all-Canadian division could hit a snag with rising COVID-19 rates in the provinces with NHL clubs.
Setting aside the entire season, however, doesn’t make sense for the league from a business standpoint. Return-to-play negotiations hit a snag last week over the league’s request for additional escrow and salary deferral from the players.
THE PROVINCE: An NHL player agent told Ben Kuzma the players hold the leverage in return-to-play negotiations because league commissioner Gary Bettman “has to preserve the integrity of the game and they have to play a season – whatever it looks like.” Failure to do so, according to the agent, would hurt the league’s brand.
“If it was a just a clear deferral, I think players individually would look at that, if they had the flexibility,” added the agent. “But players are in different situations. If a guy is on a long-term deal, would it make sense for him to defer some money this year? That’s a voluntary decision and it might be able to work, but the players and league have to agree on it.
“And part of the problem with deferred income is that in the U.S., it’s not guaranteed. So, if an owner wants to declare bankruptcy, the first thing a court is going to throw away is unsecured debt. And if you secure it, you add tax to that particular year.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL and NHLPA are running out of time to reach an agreement on a return-to-play plan for Jan. 1. The quickest way to that route would be the league backing off on their requests for increased escrow and salary deferral rates, but I don’t see Bettman and the team owners doing that. The players have dug in their heels. If the league does the same, the entire 2020-21 season will be in jeopardy.
ESPN.COM: In a recent interview with Greg Wyshynski, Max Domi addressed his recent trade from the Montreal Canadiens to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He pointed to his and the Canadiens’ struggles last season as factors that led to the deal, but he expressed no ill will toward his former club.
Domi’s looking forward to playing for the Blue Jackets as he feels they’re a team that’s ready to win. “They’re the hardest team to play against in the league. I can tell you that first-hand.”
THE ATHLETIC: Nikita Zadorov is looking forward to a larger role and more responsibilities with the Chicago Blackhawks after being largely a third-pair defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche. Zadorov was traded last month to the Blackhawks.
SPORTSNET: Jesse Puljujarvi’s improvement in Finland bodes well for his return this season to the Edmonton Oilers. He spent all of last season with the Oilers over a contract dispute.
TORONTO SUN: Defenseman Mikko Lehtonen terminated his contract last week with KHL club Jokerit Helsinki and is heading to Toronto to join the Maple Leafs. The 26-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the Leafs in May and was loaned to Jokerit in August.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Florida Panthers have officially partnered with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits.