NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 2, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 2, 2020

The standoff continues between the league and the players as speculation persists over what the 2020-21 season will look like. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

TSN: Darren Dreger reports of speculation of the NHL owners canceling season if they decide they can’t go in 2020-21. The NHLPA could challenge that move in federal court as an illegal lockout but Dreger said force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances preventing the fulfillment of a contract; in this case, the collective bargaining agreement) would be applied by the owners because of the pandemic. He also said the league believes the spirit of the existing agreement provides them with cancellation protection. The owners also wouldn’t have to pay the players. However, Dreger points out neither side wants to cancel the season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Player agent Allan Walsh took to Twitter yesterday disputing the force majeure idea. He claims if the owners cancel the season because the players won’t give another $300 million in concessions that it would be considered a lockout, “which is expressly prohibited by CBA article 7.1 (b).” In Walsh’s opinion, that would leave the owners at risk of facing billions of dollars in potential damages if the PA took them to court.

Walsh accused the league of soft-pedaling force majeure to the media. Maybe the owners are trying to frighten the players into making more concessions. Perhaps it’s being done to lay the groundwork against any potential media/fan backlash over a potential cancellation.

With reports claiming the NHL and the PA remain determined to stage a season, this could be just posturing by the league. We’ll find out for sure in a couple of months. There might not be a season at all if there’s no puck drop by mid-February.

Pierre LeBrun reports the PA has stuck to its guns that it hasn’t agreed to anything beyond the terms of the memorandum of understanding and the CBA extension. That could change but for now, they believe the league should stick to the terms of the agreement.

LeBrun adds the PA’s return-to-play committee has held regular conference calls but there’s some frustration on their part over a perceived lack of urgency on the league’s part.

Frank Seravalli reports the preference for both sides is opening the season in all 31 NHL arenas for revenue purposes as well as allowing players to spend more time with their families. The league recognizes it will have to be flexible with the schedule and locations because of the rising COVID-19 cases throughout North America, which could result in potential neutral-site games. Hybrid bubbles are also a backup option but not a preferred one.

LeBrun said the temporary realignment of divisions, including a Canadian division, remains locked in. However, a firm decision hasn’t been reached yet over what the three American divisions would look like.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think most of those issues will be quickly sorted out once the standoff between the NHL and NHLPA over the league’s request for increased escrow and salary deferral rates is resolved. The framework for those decisions appears to already be in place.

FOX SPORTS’ Andy Strickland reports some NHL players are delaying returns to their respective NHL cities. He believes we’re destined for a 48-game schedule hopefully beginning in late January or early February.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s pretty much the consensus among NHL pundits and most fans.

DETROIT FREE PRESS: The Red Wings loaned minor-league goaltender Calvin Pickard to the Vienna Capitals in Austria. He’s the 10th player the Wings have loaned overseas and could be a sign the league’s proposed Jan. 1 start date is increasingly unlikely.

SPORTSNET: The Edmonton Oilers have 20 players loaned to European clubs, including Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Benson.

TSN: The ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears announced they’ve agreed to terms with free-agent goaltender Garret Sparks for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. Sparks spent parts of three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It wasn’t that long ago Sparks was considered the logical backup to Leafs starter Frederik Andersen.

Calgary Flames assistant general manager Chris Snow is in good spirits following surgery on Monday to insert a feeding tube into his stomach. Snow was diagnosed with ALS in June 2019 but continues in his role with the Flames.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Snow in his battle against that terrible disease.

NBC SPORTS: The Dallas Stars revealed their all-white Reverse Retro uniforms over the weekend.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Great camouflage tactic by the Stars.

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 1, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 1, 2020

The latest on the stalled return-to-play talks between the NHL and NHLPA in today’s morning coffee headlines.

TSN: Darren Dreger reports the NHL still has Jan. 1 as its target date for starting the season but it is looking at a later date. They’re also looking at starting up training camp following the holidays in late December or early January. He also reports league commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr resumed discussions over the weekend and those talks continued on Monday. Dreger suggested a mid-January start is the likely target date.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (right) and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr (NHL.com).

Dreger also said the players remain unhappy over the league’s proposals for increased escrow and salary deferral rates. Some of them wonder why Bettman did offer up some sort of give-back from the owners before requesting another increase in those rates. He believes there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach common ground.

Jeff O’Neill ultimately believes the players will accept the league’s requests. Otherwise, they won’t play and won’t get paid for this season.

OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch cites NHL insider John Shannon reporting sources from the NHL and NHLPA confirm there have been discussions but no progress on revisiting this summer’s Memorandum of Understanding on the CBA extension.

Facing the prospect of starting the season with empty arenas due to COVID-19, the league is requesting another $300 million in savings from the players in the form of increased escrow and salary deferral rates. Garrioch points out the players have every right to kick the can down the road on escrow, but if they don’t more now they’ll have to do so in the latter years of the deal.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The good news is that at least Bettman and Fehr have resumed discussions. Dreger’s report also indicates the league is leaning toward a more realistic potential start date most of us anticipated for the season.

TORONTO STAR: Kevin McGran predicts it will take four weeks from the time an agreement is reached until the puck drops on the season. If it’s reached by early January the season could open in early February and conclude in late June.

McGran also reports Bettman kept the NHL owners out of this summer’s negotiations on the MOU extension to the CBA. The owners unanimously endorse it and it’s believed some did so solely on the commissioner’s recommendation. Having read the MOU after its ratification, some owners aren’t happy with it.

It could cost each team $150 million in operating costs for this season. Some owners have apparently told Bettman they would be better off financially by not playing. The players, meanwhile, aren’t happy with the league’s requests to lower their salaries from the agreed-upon 72 percent for this season to 55 percent.

McGran believes the players will ultimately bend because the CBA allows the league to suspend a season based on circumstances beyond its control. It’s in the financial best interest of the players to play.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Under the CBA, the players are entitled to no more than 50 percent of hockey-related revenue. Thus, it would make sense for the players to give back now to avoid paying back more down the road.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks last week argued the adoption of annual escrow caps coupled with unlinking the cap from actual HRR ended the assurance of a 50-50 split. That’s likely coming from the PA given Brooks’ sources within the union. I doubt that’s going to fly with the NHL owners.

The consensus among pundits is the players will have to agree to Bettman’s requests but the league will have to include a sweetener to make it enticing to the players. Plenty of suggestions have been bandied about but paying back the deferred salary with interest appears the best option. We’ll see what transpires in the coming weeks.

THE PROVINCE: Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, believes the NHL could minimize the type of COVID-19 outbreaks currently seen among NFL teams. He advocates adopting the NBA’s strict training camp virus prevention and detection protocols.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league crafted its strict test policies for this summer’s return-to-play postseason plan by observing what worked and what didn’t with other sports leagues. I daresay they’ll follow the same plan to make adjustments for a regular-season schedule.

NHL Might Have To Bend In Stalemate With Players

NHL Might Have To Bend In Stalemate With Players


The Clock Is Ticking On NHL’s Jan. 1 Return-to-Play Plan

The Clock Is Ticking On NHL’s Jan. 1 Return-to-Play Plan


NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – November 20, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – November 20, 2020

The fallout from the league’s request to the players for increased escrow and salary deferral rates in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports return-to-play talks between the NHL and NHLPA have reached a delicate stage following the league’s request for increased escrow rates over the final three seasons of the recent CBA extension and increased salary deferral for 2020-21.

Staging the season would keep the NHL’s brand alive. The league’s requests are essentially because NHL owners are hurting, perhaps more than they thought they would, especially facing reduced revenue because of fewer games and empty or near-empty arenas.

Hockey-related revenue is divided 50-50 between the owners and the players. If the players receive more than 50 percent in 2020-21, they’ll have to pay back that overage at some point.

LeBrun notes the league isn’t asking to prorate players’ salaries for 2020-21. Proration would mean money taken from the players they would never see again, whereas deferral means they would receive it at a later date.

Nevertheless, the NHLPA wasn’t happy with the league’s requests coming only four months after an agreement was reached on a CBA extension that took revenue losses into account. They feel the league would reject any PA request for adjustments to the extension if the roles were reversed.

LeBrun believes the NHL and NHLPA can reach an agreement here. He suspects the PA will agree to tweak some of the salary deferrals but not at the league’s requested rate, provided the players get something in return.

SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports sources claim the league made two requests. The first was for increased salary deferral to 20 percent and escrow to 25 percent for 2020-21. The second was for deferred compensation for 2021-22 to be raised to 26 percent, with escrow rates increased from six percent to between 8.5 – 9 percent for the final three years of the CBA extension.

There were several problems with this for the PA. Some members wondered why the agreement is being changed so soon. Some pointed out they’ve had to live with deals they didn’t like in the past. Some point out if they agree to this, it could happen again.

Part of what’s behind the players’ anger is some of them recently signed contracts that were structured to take advantage of lower escrow over the final years of the CBA.

Like LeBrun, Friedman believes the two sides can reach an agreement as both sides are keen to play as soon as possible. However, the league’s requests knocked negotiations off-course. He also suggested the players seek an expanded playoff format in exchange for accepting alterations to the agreement as it would increase revenues.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ken Campbell points out how the league’s proposals would affect player salaries. A player earning $1 million would see his gross pay reduced to $720K under the current agreement. The league’s recent requests would reduce his pay to $592K. That’s before deductions such as taxes and agent fees.

One player agent said the league is offering no concessions to the players. “They get to play,” he said, “That’ll be the give-back.”

Campbell acknowledged the owners are being affected by the pandemic in terms of hockey revenue and other areas of their business. However, they’re getting $650 million in expansion money, none of which goes to the players. They can also borrow money at historically low interest rates to get them through this period. They could also see revenue significantly improve once a vaccine is developed and fans return to the games. The players, on the other hand, lose money now that they probably won’t get back.

If the players refuse to budge, one player agent suggested to Campbell that the owners could trigger Section 17 of the standard player contract that would allow the league to adjust salary based on situations beyond the league’s contract. However, that could trigger a lawsuit.

Campbell also feels this could eventually be resolved, but it could erode whatever goodwill existed between the owners and players that led to the current CBA extension.

ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski report when the CBA extension was negotiated, both sides presented best, moderate and worst-case financial outlook scenarios, with the worst case being a full season without fans. The extension was negotiated during the pandemic based on those scenarios. One NHLPA member said the league will have to have to come up with something good as a giveback for the players to accept its recent proposals.

Sources say daily discussions are ongoing between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. If the season is to start on Jan.1, teams will need two weeks of training camp leading up to that, with last season’s seven non-playoff clubs promised an additional week.

Players on Canadian teams returning to their clubs require a 14-day quarantine period. The league and PA are in discussions with local and provincial health authorities to see if accommodations can be made, such as having players serve their quarantine while also training.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I understand the league’s side given the course of this pandemic and its effects upon hockey-related revenue. It’s the way they’ve gone about it, however, that raised hackles among the players. Based on these reports, I believe the players’ reaction is justified.

The league agreed to the extension knowing full well what the worst-case scenario could be. The owners knew what they were getting into here.

So did the players. They agreed to a higher fixed rate of escrow over the first three years of the extension with the promise of a lower rate over the final three years when revenue is expected to improve. That’s money they won’t ever get back. They also agreed to defer part of their salary for next season at a set rate.

Years of playing hardball with the PA are coming back to haunt the league. The players have steadily given back over the past 15 years, as their share of HRR dropped from 74 percent in 2004 to 57 percent following a season-killing lockout, to 50 percent following the 2012-13 lockout. They accepted another reduction under the recent extension with a high escrow rate for this season.

Now, with the ink barely dry on the CBA extension, one that took into account the worst-case scenario, they’re being asked for another giveback without anything in return other than they get to play in 2021. Getting the players to agree to that requires a significant sweetener beyond being able to go to work in a shortened schedule for less money.

Because the players can receive no more than 50 percent of HRR, they must eventually offset any overage for the upcoming season. That’s something that could have been discussed between the two sides after the 2020-21 season is completed when the full amount of the overage has been determined. If the league remains insistent on tweaking those rates now, the owners must come up with a substantial give-back to the players as an enticement.

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 10, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 10, 2020

Updates on the Return-to-Play plan and CBA extension, the Devils officially announced Lindy Ruff as their new head coach and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.


TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the return-to-play plan and CBA extension could be ratified by Friday night. The results of the NHLPA membership vote will be completed by 6 pm ET while the NHL Board of Governors will hold a conference call at 4 PM ET.

The NHL & NHLPA could ratify the return-to-play plan and CBA extension later today (Image via NHL.com).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The BoG call is expected to be a rubber stamp. Despite several recent reports of player unhappiness leading up to this week, media consensus is the PA membership is expected to vote its approval.

McKenzie wonders if there will be a big spike in positive COVID-19 tests as Phase 3 commences Monday with mandatory training camps at NHL facilities.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ve repeatedly said Phase 3 will determine if Phase 4 (the playoff tournament) takes place. McKenzie points out the league has a fighting chance to pull this off once the teams are quarantined in Edmonton and Toronto. Getting to that point, however, could be a challenge.

During Phase 4, the Eastern Conference clubs will be housed at Hotel X on the CNE grounds and the Royal York in downtown Toronto. In Edmonton, the Western Conference teams will be housed at the JW Marriott alongside the arena and the Sutton Place hotel downtown.

The playoff games are slated for 12, 4, and 8 pm local time daily, but McKenzie indicates the Edmonton schedule could be tweaked more depending on the needs of broadcasters.

Some teams are leaning toward bringing three goalies to the tournament but more are considering bringing four. They’re also mulling whether to bring 31 players or reduced those numbers to allow for an extra staff member or two.


NJ.COM: The New Jersey Devils made it official yesterday, announcing Lindy Ruff will become their new head coach starting next season and removed the interim tag from general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s title.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ruff is known for his defensive systems, but those expecting a boring trapping style could be in for a surprise. “We played a super-fast possession type of game, which is the same type of game I’d like to bring to this Devils team with a lot of puck pressure using the skills we have to own the puck,” he told NJ.com. “And I want a team that can dominate with speed and possession, but at the same time knowing that defending is a passion that we’re going to have.”