Botterill Joins Several Former Assistant General Managers Who Failed As NHL GMs
The Buffalo Sabres shake up their management and scouting departments, the Canadian government is open to a hub city, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SABRES SHAKE UP THEIR FRONT OFFICE
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres yesterday fired general manager Jason Botterill and replaced him with Senior VP of Business Administration Kevyn Adams. The move came three weeks after Botterill received a vote of confidence from team owners Terry and Kim Pegula.
The club relieved assistant GMs Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley of their duties and fired the entire coaching staff of AHL affiliate Rochester Americans.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This front-office bloodletting is seen as cost-cutting by a club that will be sitting idle until perhaps January. Kim Pegula claimed the change of heart with Botterill was due to the 2020 NHL Draft being pushed to this fall, giving Adams time to familiarize himself with his new role. Putting Adams, who has no management experience, into that role is also being seen as the Pegulas injecting themselves directly into management decisions affecting the on-ice product.
Botterill leaves with more misses than hits during his tenure. He got very little back from trading Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis and Evander Kane to San Jose. While he didn’t give up much to acquire Jeff Skinner from Carolina, he was criticized for re-signing the winger to an eight-year extension worth $9 million annually. On the plus side, he drafted Rasmus Dahlin and acquired blueliner Brandon Montour.
Yesterday’s moves left many observers pondering the fate of head coach Ralph Krueger. So far, it appears his job is safe, but the same was said of Botterill three weeks ago.
Considering the Sabres’ lousy record since the Pegulas took over in 2011 – a nine-year playoff drought, three management changes, and six different head coaches – their fans can be forgiven any skepticism over yesterday’s moves.
The patience of team captain and franchise players Jack Eichel will be tested if the Sabres fail to improve. Yesterday could become the beginning of the end of Eichel’s tenure in Buffalo.
LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
TSN: Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said his government is comfortable with the NHL having a host city for its playoff tournament in Canada, provided the league follows local health protocols. Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver are among the 10 teams in the running.
“Obviously the decision has to be made by the NHL and the cities and the provinces in the jurisdiction, but Canada is open to it as long as it is okayed by the local health authorities”, said Trudeau.”
Bob McKenzie reports there was some talk of Toronto as a front-runner but all three Canadian cities are very much in the mix. He feels Trudeau’s announcement opens the door for one of them to become a hub for the playoff tournament.
Pierre LeBrun believes we’ll get more clarity on the two hub cities next week. Las Vegas remains a lock. If the three Canadian cities don’t work out there are some people who favor Chicago.
SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reports Toronto Maple Leafs player rep Zach Hyman said he doesn’t have much clarity yet about how restrictive the NHL’s return-to-play protocol will be. He believes there could be some leniencies in place allowing players some access to their families during the tournament.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league and the NHLPA are in ongoing negotiations regarding those return-to-play restrictions. It’s expected more will be revealed when the league moves to Phase 3 as training camps open on July 10.
AZCENTRAL.COM: Arizona Coyotes center Brad Richardson said he was in contact with the team staff member who tested positive for COVID-19. Richardson said he subsequently tested negative for the virus.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It will difficult for teams to protect their players from the coronavirus as they prepare for training camp, especially in areas like Arizona where reported cases are on the rise. The Phase 3 training-camp period will determine if Phase 4 – the playoff tournament – goes off.
NBC SPORTS: Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t ruling out resting some of his regulars during the round-robin.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You’re probably thinking, “They’ve had months to rest and recover from any nagging injuries so why rest them in a three-game round-robin before the playoffs?” I doubt Cassidy’s going to do that for all of his stars. They’re going to need those games to get into game shape. This could be done on a game-by-game basis depending on the player’s needs.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog has resumed skating with several teammates at Pepsi Center in Denver.
IN OTHER NEWS…
BLOOMBERG NEWS: The Nassau Coliseum will be shuttered indefinitely as its owner seeks new investors to take over operations and the remaining debt on the building. The New York Islanders were supposed to return to the Coliseum next season to play all of their home games there before moving into their new Belmont Park arena for 2021-22.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The New York Post’s Larry Brooks wonders if Rangers owner James Dolan might swoop in and keep the Coliseum open next season to enable the Islanders to play there. If that doesn’t happen, the Isles might have to play one more season at Barclays Center before moving to their new arena.
TSN: The reopening of Seattle’s KeyArena has been pushed back by two months. However, it’s not expected to affect the city’s NHL expansion team from starting their inaugural season in 2021-22.
Sabres fire GM Jason Botterill, league commissioner Gary Bettman talks about the return-to-play plan, plus the latest on Patrick Kane, David Pastrnak, Braden Holtby, Josh Anderson, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
The Buffalo Sabres have relieved Jason Botterill of his duties as general manager. They’ve named Senior VP of Business Administration Kevyn Adams as Botterill’s replacement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This news broke earlier this morning. I hope to have more about this in tomorrow’s update. It was only three weeks ago that Botterill received the backing of Sabres ownership for another season. It’ll be interesting to find out what brought about this sudden change of heart, as well as what it could mean for the coaching and scouting staffs.
LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan reports NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes the league’s return-to-play plan will maintain the integrity of the playoffs without being too gimmicky.
“I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we’re going to run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players,” said Bettman.
The NHL intends to return later this summer with a 24-team tournament involving a round-robin for the top eight teams and a qualifying round for the other 16.
Bettman indicated the league has worked closely with the NHL Players’ Association since games were paused in mid-March. The two sides continue to negotiate key details, including playing under a quarantine bubble and the location of the two host cities for the tournament.
The commissioner also said the league intends to test every player and member of each team’s 50-person traveling party daily for COVID-19. A player testing positive will be isolated and contact tracing will monitor everyone in close proximity of that player. Bettman said the league has been told an isolated case or two won’t affect their plans to go forward.
Bettman also said the league is in discussions with the Canadian government regarding easing restrictions for the country’s 14-day quarantine period for visitors.
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports Bettman admitted 56 percent of the league’s players remain outside of their respective NHL cities, with 17 percent of them still in Europe. “So we’ve got a lot of people to move around and we have to get people back from outside of North America.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The round-robin and qualifying rounds are a bit gimmicky, but necessary given this unusual situation. Once the playoffs begin, it’s the usual four-round, best-of-seven tournament.
The discussions with the Canadian government will affect the location of one of the two host cities. It’s believed the league wants one in Canada, but that won’t be possible if the government maintains its strict border protocols. That will also affect training camps for the six Canadian teams (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal) participating in the tournament. There’s already talk that some of them could hold training camps in the United States.
Phase 3 of the return-to-play plan involves training camps opening on July 10. The league has a limited time to get their players back to their respective NHL cities.
SPORTSNET: Hockey analyst and former NHLer Kevin Bieksa said several players he’s spoken to remain skeptical of the return-to-play plan. He said they don’t have their equipment and still have skated.
Bieksa added there remains several issues to be sorted out. “Not only with the safety measures and protocol and everything but I don’t even know if it’s been discussed with the (NHLPA) and the league how they’re going to divide HRR (hockey-related revenue).”
Some critics have dismissed the proposed tournament as the NHL putting the players at risk solely for the sake of profit. What the league is doing is attempting to recoup roughly half of its $1.1 billion in lost revenue from pausing the schedule. This depends, however, on the willing participation of the players.
With the salary cap tied to hockey-related revenue, the majority of players (based on the 29-2 vote by NHLPA player reps approving the return-to-play plan) are agreeable to this tournament. They aren’t being forced into this. If a majority aren’t confident their health and safety can be assured, they have the power to shut this down at any time.
AWFUL ANNOUNCING: cites a report in Sports Business Journal claiming the NHL is halting all negotiations for its next television contract until the end of 2020.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE SCORE: Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane doesn’t believe whoever wins the 2020 Stanley Cup should have an asterisk beside their name.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are no asterisks beside the NHL teams that won the Stanley Cup during the Second World War when some of the league’s best players were serving overseas. There’s no asterisk beside the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils or 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Cup during lockout-shortened seasons. There shouldn’t be, and won’t be, an asterisk beside the potential 2020 Cup champion.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins winger David Pastrnak is more upset about missing the 100-point plateau than the 50-goal mark. With 48 goals and 95 points in 70 games, Pastrnak was on pace for his first 50-goal, 100-point campaign when the schedule was paused.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said the starting goaltender role is Braden Holtby’s to lose in the playoff tournament. “Braden Holtby’s body of work in playoff games speaks for itself and how he definitely helped our team to win our first-ever Stanley Cup and was a huge, huge part of that,” Reirden said.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Aaron Portzline reports Columbus Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson will remain sidelined by shoulder surgery until after September.
LAS VEGAS SUN: The Vegas Golden Knights re-signed Ryan Reaves to a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension. The 33-year-old winger is completing a two-year, $5.5-million deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some observers suggest Reaves’ accepting less money to re-sign with the Golden Knights could be a harbinger of what many of this year’s unrestricted free agents could face when the season is over. However, he likely would’ve had to accept a similar deal from the Golden Knights even without the possibility of a flat salary cap for next season. Before re-signing Reaves, the Golden Knights had over $73 million invested in 15 players for 2020-21.
SPORTSDAY: Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak signed a three-year contract with Czech club HC Vitkovice. He’s still under contract with the Stars for this season but told a Czech paper he might not return if the NHL stages its playoff tournament. Stars general manager Jim Nill said the team can’t make a player return against their wishes. “If anyone wants to stay home, that is their decision. His contract expires at the end of this season, so no issues there.”
SPORTSNET: The American Hockey League has formed a return-to-play task force to prepare for its 2020-21 season.
Highlights of the league’s return-to-play plan, the updated draft lottery procedure, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCES RETURN-TO-PLAY PLAN
NHL.COM: The NHL yesterday formally announced its’ return-to-play plan with a 24-team tournament to determine the 2020 Stanley Cup champion. the format was approved by a 29-2 vote by the NHL Players’ Association executive board on Friday.
The tournament will open with a 16-team, best-of-five play-in round, while the top-four teams in each conference will compete in a three-game round-robin to determine their seeding for the playoffs. The 12 qualifying teams in each conference were determined by points percentage.
These rounds will be played at two hub cities, one for each conference. The candidates for those cities include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.
League commissioner Gary Bettman said the final selection of the hub cities and when play can begin depends on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability, and government regulations. For example, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver would be ruled out as hub cities if the Canadian government maintains its 14-day self-quarantine for non-essential border travel.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: TSN’s Frank Seravalli reports Las Vegas is believed to be a “near lock” as one of the hub cities. NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger reported the U.S. Acting Director of Homeland Security has signed an order indicating professional athletes are considered essential workers. According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, however, the Canadian government has yet to determine if it’ll follow suit.
Bettman said it’s not required to have Eastern Conference clubs play in an Eastern hub or Western Conference teams to play in a Western hub. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated the league might not allow a team to play in its own city to avoid the appearance of competitive advantage.
Training camps could open in mid-July as part of Phase 3 return-to-play plan. Bettman estimated the games could begin sometime this summer and carry on into early autumn. Teams will be limited to 50 personnel in their traveling parties and will strictly limit the number of support staff.
Bettman stressed the health and safety of the players, coaches, essential support staff, and communities remain the priority.
SPORTSNET: Bettman said the 2019-20 regular season is considered to be over for purposes of record-keeping and awards.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That means the Boston Bruins are the winners of the 2019-20 Presidents’ Trophy. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl has won the Art Ross Trophy (becoming the first German-born player to do so), while Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Boston’s David Pastrnak will share the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with the most goals this season (48).
He also indicated it hasn’t been decided if the winners of the qualifying round will be re-seeded for the playoff rounds, or if it will follow a bracket-style format. The qualifying round would be as follows:
Eastern Conference (standings seeding in brackets)
(5)Pittsburgh vs Montreal (12)
(6 )Carolina vs NY Rangers (11)
(7)NY Islanders vs Florida Panthers (10)
(8)Toronto vs Columbus (9)
(5)Edmonton vs Chicago (12)
(6)Nashville vs Arizona (11)
(7)Vancouver vs Minnesota (10)
(8)Calgary vs Winnipeg (9)
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league’s formal announcement of the 24-team tournament generated plenty of buzz among hockey fans. While this is a step toward returning to action, plenty of potential obstacles must be overcome before this tournament takes place. As TSN’s Pierre LeBrun tweeted, the league and the PA continue to negotiate about the location of the hub cities, testing, protocols, etc.
Responding to questions from fans on Sportsnet, Bettman suggested the start of the 2020-21 season could be pushed ahead to November or December.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ken Campbell reports this plan will cost the league tens of millions of dollars and involve 30,000 COVID-19 tests. Bettman indicated the league’s medical advisors said that by the time they’re doing that testing over the summer, it will be a relatively insignificant number compared to the tests that will be available.
The league stated a single positive test or several isolated positives during tournament won’t shut things down, but weren’t as optimistic in the event of a team suffering a COVID-19 outbreak.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: One or two players with positive tests can be isolated, but I’m assuming that means their teammates would have to go into self-quarantine. If not, there’s a real risk of the virus spreading quickly among their teammates and to other clubs they’ve faced in the tournament.
THE ATHLETIC‘s Michael Russo reported via Twitter that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league’s position remains no contracts can be signed for 2019-20. However, the issues remain to be resolved with the NHLPA.
NHL DRAFT LOTTERY PROTOCOL REVEALED
NHL.COM: The league also announced the protocol for the 2020 NHL Draft, with the first phase slated for June 26. That phase will consist of three drawings and include the seven teams (Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres) that didn’t qualify for the 24-team playoff tournament, plus eight placeholder spots for the eight clubs that fail to advance in the tournament’s play-in round. The lottery odds for those clubs were determined by their points percentage in the final standings
Detroit Red Wings — (.275) 18.5 percent chance for No. 1 pick
Ottawa Senators — (.437) 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks, .450) — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — (.457) 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — (.472) 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — (.493) 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — (.493) 6.5 percent
Qualifying Round Team A — 6.0 percent
Qualifying Round Team B — 5.0 percent
Qualifying Round Team C — 3.5 percent
Qualifying Round Team D — 3.0 percent
Qualifying Round Team E — 2.5 percent
Qualifying Round Team F — 2.0 percent
Qualifying Round Team G — 1.5 percent
Qualifying Round Team H — 1.0 percent
After the first drawing, the odds for the remaining teams “will increase on a proportionate basis for the second drawing, and again for the third drawing, based on which team wins the second drawing.”
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ryan Kennedy provides a detailed breakdown of how the draft lottery will unfold through each phase to determine the final placements. He noted this format will eliminate the possibility of the Stanley Cup champion also winning the draft lottery.
The Red Wings still have the best odds of winning the lottery, but there’s a real possibility the Senators, holding the second and third overall picks, could also win it. A club eliminated from the play-in round could also have a chance (albeit slim) of winning the lottery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Depending on the outcome of the play-in round, determining those placeholders spots can get complicated. Kennedy’s breakdown provides a clearer picture.
IN OTHER NEWS…
WGR 550: Buffalo Sabres co-owner Kim Pegula announced Jason Botterill will remain general manager for 2020-21.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rather curious timing by Pegula, given all the news coming down from the league yesterday. Coincidence? You make the call!
LAS VEGAS SUN: The Golden Knights will unveil the new name and logo of its AHL affiliate on Thursday. Earlier this season, they purchase the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage with the intent of moving it to Henderson, Nevada.