NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 23, 2021
The fallout from the NHL’s withdrawal from the 2020 Winter Olympics, questions over the league’s plans to address the current COVID outbreak among its teams, and more in today’s morning coffee headlines.
NOTE: The NHL expanded its annual holiday break to begin on Dec. 22 and ending on Dec. 26.
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr believes it’s a “real shame” NHL players will miss out on another Winter Olympics. However, he acknowledged the inevitability of Wednesday’s decision to withdraw from the Games due to the COVID-19 outbreaks around the NHL and the “profound disruption” to the league’s schedule.
While the decision was out of the players’ control, Fehr said they were devastated and frustrated by the news. He declined to say whether current or former players would still attempt to participate in the Olympics. There’s also no indication whether the Bejing Games would be postponed to 2023.
NBC SPORTS: Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane are among the notable NHLers to lament the league’s decision to withdraw from the Games.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy reports the decision caused some internal strife with the NHLPA ranks. A player agent told Murphy the players he spoke to were “ticked off”. Murphy also cited Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck telling the Winnipeg media he believed the league’s COVID protocols were “a little overkill”.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Those players who are “ticked off” are likely in a minority. This wasn’t the NHL yanking the rug from beneath their Olympic aspirations for spite or a change of heart. The recent COVID wave and its effect upon the league’s schedule is the culprit.
This decision was based on the effect this wave could have on hockey-related revenue. Two weeks ago, league commissioner Gary Bettman projected revenue for 2021-22 could reach $5 billion, an increase over the initial projection of $4.8 billion earlier in the fall.
Rising COVID numbers around the league, however, threaten those projections. With 48 postponed games to be made up (and possibly more if the outbreaks are sufficiently contained), the league also risked being unable to complete a full 82-game schedule on time. Going to the Olympics would eat up three valuable weeks in February that can be put toward staging those postponed games.
Shortening the schedule isn’t an option here, especially for the players. They still have to repay the owners for the overage of their share of the HRR they collected last season. That’s because the salary cap was set artificially high to ensure teams could maintain their rosters. However, it didn’t reflect actual revenue.
Under Bettman’s recent projection, the players would pay that share back in two years’ time. Shortening the season to accommodate Olympic participation would see those HRR projections fall short, meaning it would take another year for the players to pay that money back. That also means continued marginal increases in the salary cap until such time as that debt to the owners has been repaid.
The players may be disappointed in not getting a shot at Olympic gold in February but they care more about their paychecks.
The NHL’s withdrawal from the Olympics also meant a change of management and coaching for Canada and the United States. St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has stepped down as GM of Team Canada while Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin did the same for Team USA.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Armstrong hands the reins over to Hockey Canada to find suitable staff to ice a Canadian team of amateurs and former NHL players at the Beijing Games. USA Hockey will also be finding replacements for Guerin and his staff.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the NHL and NHLPA have discussed the potential reimplementation of the taxi squad and adoption of salary-cap exemptions for COVID-related roster issues for the remainder of this season.
Brooks believes ESPN is the reason why the 2022 All-Star Game remains a go in February. He also thinks the league and the PA will have to consider whether there will come a time to allow asymptomatic players who have tested positive to continue playing.
TSN: The NHL could consider rescheduling some of the Montreal Canadiens home games in January to later in the season if they cannot play in front of fans in their home arena.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The province of Quebec has banned fans from indoor sporting events until the end of January. The Canadiens would lose considerable revenue without fans at those games, in turn affecting the league’s hockey-related revenue for this season.
SPORTSNET: has a daily updated COVID tracker of all NHL teams. Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen and San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane were the latest notable players to enter COVID protocol.
TSN: Salim Valji wonders if there’s a glimmer of hope of keeping the Calgary Flames arena deal alive. According to Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek, the club’s ownership walked away from its partnership with the city of Calgary over a projected $9.7 million increase in the projected cost of the $600 million project. However, Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation CEO John Bean claimed there were $19 million in additional infrastructure costs that he said were introduced after their July 2021 agreement, with the city seeking an additional $10 million in funding from CSEC.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Valji indicated Mayor Gondek said the city wasn’t closing the door on the deal. “We’re simply waiting for them to come back and say they found the money,” she said. By the sound of things, CSEC isn’t going to come up with it.
Still, this could be simply public posturing by Flames ownership to put the squeeze on the city. Perhaps league commissioner Bettman will get involved to sort things out if this drags on.