Discussions continue over a 24-team tournament format, several cities pushing to become playoff hubs, Canada-USA border closure an issue, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
24-TEAM PLAYOFF FORMAT
TSN: Darren Dreger reports there is concern within the NHL and the NHL Players Association return-to-play committee over the fairness of returning with a 24-team tournament that would determine a 16-team post-season. Under that format, the Montreal Canadiens (a non-playoff team under normal standards) would face a good playoff club like the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Should they be at an equal position starting at the play-in of the 24-team format?”, asked Dreger, adding this must be resolved before the two sides sign off on this scenario.
Pierre LeBrun reported constant dialogue among the return-to-play committee since Saturday. “The hope is for resolution over the next 7-10 days but no guarantee,” said LeBrun.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports multiple sources are claiming the remarkable reputation of Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price among his peers raised concern over the unfairness of facing him in a best-of-three series. He claims there’s growing support for a best-of-five opening-round would temper the impact of a hot goalie in a short series.
Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price (Photo via NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some fans and pundits consider Price past his prime, but the Canadiens goaltender remains highly respected among his peers. He’s probably not the only reason players and general managers aren’t keen for a best-of-three opening-round format, but he’s a good example of the concerns raised about the fairness of the 24-team tournament.
NATIONAL POST: Michael Traikos wonders if a 24-team playoff format could become the norm following this season. Expanding the postseason would generate more money for the owners, especially since revenue could be lower next season because of the pandemic.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expanding the playoff format was being bandied about by several pundits before the pandemic. If the proposed 24-team tournament proves popular with fans this summer, the league could consider implementing that format permanently.
CANADA-USA BORDER CLOSURE AND NHL NEUTRAL-SITE HUB CITIES.
THE SCORE: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly remains optimistic about the league’s plans to resume play despite the recent 30-day extension of the border closure between Canada and the United States to non-essential travel. “I remain hopeful that today’s announcement will not materially impact our return to play planning,” said Daly. Non-essential travel is considered tourism, recreation, and entertainment.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the league and the PA aren’t concerned about the border closure extension. They don’t anticipate playing games until mid-to-late July at the earliest. The league’s Phase 2 plan involves players participating in small group workouts on a voluntary basis.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Because the NHL is considered a business, I daresay they’ll receive an exemption from the Canadian government.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Alberta premier Jason Kenney believes Edmonton would be the safest place on the continent for the NHL to play. He points to the low number of COVID-19 cases in the city and the province, as well as the highest per-capita testing in North America. Kenney also touted the Oilers’ state-of-the-art arena and the local facilities to accommodate the players. “All of the services are right there to be safely integrated in a protected zone that would keep the players and staff insulated. So I think we have a very strong pitch to make.”
NBC SPORTS: California governor Gavin Newsom said pro sports could return in his state by the first week of June without fans.
STARTRIBUNE.COM: The Minnesota Wild are interested in St. Paul becoming a host city when the league returns to action.
THE TENNESSEAN: The city of Nashville would also like to become a neutral-site host for NHL games this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Several factors will go into determining which cities the NHL selects as neutral-site hosts. Ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved will be the priority.
MORE NHL-NHLPA HEADLINES
THE DENVER POST: Tampa Bay Lightning analyst Brian Engblom wonders what will happen if one of the players isn’t comfortable with returning to action and stays home.
“What if it’s a key guy? People are afraid and they have every right to be. If you have one player, and maybe he’s a real key player. What do you do? It’s a free country. That person is allowed to say no. These are unprecedented times. How can you make them do anything? What’s a team going to do? Are they going to fine them? You can’t, in my opinion. This is a person’s choice because of an unreal situation.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a fair point by Engblom. In all the reports about hammering out a return-to-play format, no one has raised what will happen if a player, especially a superstar, decides he doesn’t want to risk contracting COVID-19 and refuses to report. The players are under contract, but these are extraordinary times. If one star refuses to participate, others could follow his example, creating a potential marketing headache for the league and a contractual standoff between the players and their teams.
TSN: The NHLPA’s 31 player representatives agreed to further defer a decision on their Apr. 15 paychecks until the end of May.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the league and the PA have discussed the possibility of extending the current collective bargaining agreement beyond 2021-22. The main issue could be a cap on escrow payments. Brooks said the players “are currently responsible for making up the 2019-20 carryover escrow next year. The players would obviously prefer to extend the payment over multiple seasons.” The anticipated escrow cap offer would be higher than 25 percent.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the current relationship between the league and the PA is the best he’s seen in his career. Much of that harmony involves the return-to-play committee, which includes Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, and special assistant Mathieu Schneider, as well as notable players such as Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and Mark Scheifele.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s why we’re hearing so much hopeful speculation suggesting a new era of NHL labor peace could emerge from this current situation. Nevertheless, the escrow cap issue could be the major sticking point. Resolving that will smooth a pathway toward a CBA extension.
THE SCORE: The NHL is unhappy over teams signing players to entry-level contracts with “to be determined” start dates. The league made a rule when this season was paused that such contracts couldn’t have a 2019-20 start date, but some clubs hoped to use “TBD” as a potential loophole. The league isn’t allowing contracts with undetermined start dates to be submitted to Central Registry.
OTTAWA SUN: NHL players in the Ottawa area will be allowed to skate at the privately-owned Minto Arena after receiving approval from the Ontario government. Strict conditions will be in place, such as only five players on the ice at a time and maintaining physical distancing in the building at all times.
IN OTHER NEWS…
NORTHJERSEY.COM: Goaltender Cory Schneider said he hasn’t given any thought to retirement and intends to complete his contract with the Devils. He split his time this season between the Devils and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators winger Mikkel Boedker signed a two-year contract with Lugano of the Swiss league starting next season.
WGR550: The Buffalo Sabres are reportedly close to signing Jesper Olofsson, brother of Sabres winger Victor Olofsson.
NEWSOBSERVER.COM: The Carolina Hurricanes are close to extending their deal with PNC Arena to 2029.