NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 6, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 6, 2020

The NHL and NHLPA finalize a tentative return-to-play agreement. Check out the details in today’s morning coffee headlines.

TENTATIVE AGREEMENT REACHED ON NHL RETURN-TO-PLAY PLAN

TSN/SPORTSNET: Bob McKenzie, Frank Seravalli, Elliotte Friedman, and Chris Johnston reported the NHL and NHL Players Association have tentatively agreed on protocols for Phases 3 and 4 of their return-to-play program. Here are the notable points:

The NHL & NHLPA reach a tentative agreement on the final phases of their return-to-play plan (Image via NHL.com).

Bob McKenzie reports negotiations to finalize an extension to the collective bargaining agreement are expected to continue Monday. That extension and the return-to-play plan must be ratified by the NHL board of governors and the NHLPA executive committee, followed by a full membership vote.

No ratification can take place, however, until a CBA memorandum of understanding (MOU) is completed. The PA membership vote requires up to 72 hours to complete and it’s unlikely to be held before Wednesday.

The target date for the start of Phase 3 (training camp) remains July 13, with teams traveling to the two host cities (Edmonton and Toronto) on or about July 26 and Phase 4 (playoff tournament beginning Aug. 1.

Phase 3 rosters are limited to 30 skaters and unlimited goaltenders. Only players eligible to play in the playoff tournament can take part in Phase 3 training camps.

Players can opt-out of Phase 3 and 4 without penalty but must make their decision three days following the ratification vote. Teams must submit their lists of participating players by July 9.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a change from previous reports suggesting a player could opt-out at any time without penalty.

Players will undergo a pre-participation medical exam. They and the team staff will also be tested for COVID-19 48 hours before reporting to camp and will be tested every second day afterward. If results aren’t available within 24 hours, they cannot report until a negative test is confirmed.

If a player is determined to be at substantial risk of contracting a serious illness, they’ll be deemed unfit to play and treated as a hockey-related injury, though they can also seek a second opinion. If a player or an immediate family member develops COVID-19 symptoms, he must immediately notify his team’s medical staff, self-isolate, and go through testing protocols.

Players are not permitted to skate at public facilities during Phase 3. Fitness testing of players isn’t permitted. Phase 3 fitness activities include on/off ice sessions with coaches and traditional training camp activities.

Teams failing to comply with return-to-play protocols will be subject to significant financial penalties and the potential loss of draft picks. That includes individuals leaving the host city bubble without permission, which could result in those individuals being removed from the tournament.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I wonder if that loss of draft picks could include their first-round pick in this year’s draft. That would be a powerful dissuasion to skirting the rules, especially for those 16 clubs in the qualifying round. One of the eight clubs eliminated from that round will have a chance to win this year’s draft lottery.

Phase 3 or 4 can be postponed, delayed, moved or canceled if either the league or the PA believe conditions could create a risk or jeopardize the health of players. If the PA is dissatisfied with the decision of the NHL commissioner, it can file a grievance with an independent arbitrator.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is a crucial point. A significant outbreak of COVID-19 among one or more teams could bring the return-to-play plan to a screeching halt. 

Coaches won’t be required to wear masks or face coverings on the bench. There won’t be a dress code for players during Phase 4.

LIFE UNDER THE PHASE 4 BUBBLE

Frank Seravalli reported on what life would be like within a host city quarantine bubble during Phase 4. Among the noteworthy points:

Each team will be permitted to bring a maximum of 52 people, including no more than 31 players. That will include at least one physician and one club Phase 4 compliance officer.

Each player and team staff member will be subjected to daily COVID-19 testing. That also includes persons involved in housing, feeding, and transporting the players and team staff.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Unless those workers are also staying within that bubble, daily testing probably isn’t a foolproof way to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19.

Each player will have their own hotel room and won’t be permitted to enter each other’s rooms. Each team will be assigned designated floors. Housekeeping will be provided every third day.

Players will have access to hotel bars, restaurants, pools, and fitness facilities. The league is also considering approved excursions inside and outside the bubble. Players authorized to leave the bubble for medical or personal reasons (birth of a child, death of a family member, etc) will be permitted to return following a quarantine and testing period.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s important for the players’ morale to have access to entertainment and recreation facilities, especially for teams advancing deep into the playoffs. Those trips outside the bubble, as Seravalli noted, could be for excursions like pre-arranged tee times at golf courses.

The players’ immediate families will be permitted to join them within the bubble during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final once acceptable quarantine and testing have been conducted inside the bubble.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will be very important for those players. By that point, they’ll have been away from their loved ones for over five weeks.

Details of the plan could be released soon. In the meantime, I recommend following the links provided above for more information.

With a tentative agreement on return-to-play, I expect we’ll see a CBA extension at some point this week if Phase 3 is to begin on July 13. That will allow time for the PA membership to hold their vote.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 2, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 2, 2020

Edmonton and Toronto set to become hub cities, the latest return-to-play and CBA extension news, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

EDMONTON, TORONTO TO BECOME HUB CITIES FOR NHL TOURNAMENT

TSN: Bob McKenzie reported Edmonton and Toronto are set to become the two hub cities for the NHL’s return-to-play tournament barring any last-minute complications. Frank Seravalli reports the 12 Eastern Conference clubs would report to Toronto and the 12 Western Conference clubs would head to Edmonton.

SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reports Phase 3 (training camp) would begin on July 13, with teams traveling to the hub cities as soon as July 25 for Phase 4.

The NHL and NHLPA are reportedly closing in on a return-to-play plan and CBA extension (Image via NHL.com).

THE ATHLETIC’s Michael Russo reports Las Vegas fell out of the running as a hub city because of recent reports of a rise of positive COVID-19 tests among hotel and casino employees. That defeated the purpose of an NHL player/staff bubble.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Ed Graney reports infection rates are still rising in Nevada, with that state seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 transmission in the United States.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vegas was considered a lock to be a hub city until earlier this week when logic finally prevailed. Canada is trending in the right direction as active COVID-19 cases steadily decline.

The league’s return-to-play plan, which includes daily testing, received approval from the Canadian government, the governments of Alberta and Ontario, and the municipal governments of Edmonton and Toronto.

LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY AND CBA EXTENSION NEWS

TSN: Bob McKenzie also reported the NHL and NHL Players’ Association appear to be drawing closer to an agreement on a return-to-play plan and an extension to the collective bargaining agreement. However, he warns nothing is settled until both sides ratify a tentative deal. The NHLPA membership could vote on Friday or Saturday.

It’s McKenzie’s understanding that non-NHL players signed to NHL contracts in recent weeks (Montreal’s Alexander Romanov, Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, and the New York Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin) won’t be eligible to play in the 24-team playoff tournament.

Frank Seravalli reports the league and PA agreed to an interim extension on all expiring player contracts pending completion of the CBA extension and agreement on Phases 3 and 4 of the return-to-play plan. He also indicates part of the agreement would allow any player to opt-out of return-to-play.

The deals would require two-thirds majority approval from the NHL Board of Governors, but a simple majority from the NHLPA membership. Seravalli indicates it would be a three- or four-year extension to the current CBA. The players are also expected to receive small lifestyle benefits in this deal, such as increases in medical subsidies in retirement and player health insurance, and increase rental/mortgage reimbursement following trade or reassignment.

SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reports the players’ pay would be delinked from league revenue for the next two years with a 20 percent escrow cap and a fixed salary cap of $81.5 million before eventually returning to a system based on the current model. The players’ would also defer 10 percent of their salaries for next season to a later date.

Johnston also reports there were negotiations on changing the rules on salary structure, with limits on signing bonuses and restrictions on salary variance from year to year. The league is also willing to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics, pending an agreement with the International Olympic Committee on insurance, travel, and other issues.

THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Michael Russo speculates the IOC’s position on those issues may be softening if the league and the PA made that agreement on Olympic participation. He also cited a player agent saying his clients still don’t have a clear understanding of the economic impact of playing this season versus not playing. They also have concerns over the possible health risks associated with playing this summer.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We could learn more details on both plans over the next two days. As McKenzie points out, nothing is set in stone yet. The players’ concerns are legitimate and could potentially derail this agreement if not sufficiently addressed. 

I’m curious to see what the major CBA changes could be once the deal is ratified.  No surprise the league wants to close the loophole on paying the bulk of a player’s salary in signing bonuses. I also expected they would attempt to narrow the salary variance, currently at 50 percent.

Olympic participation was considered among the main sticking points in CBA talks prior to the pandemic interrupting the regular season. That’s a significant concession from the league to the players, but I’m interested in what it will cost the players down the road. 

The poison pill, as always, could be escrow. As Seravalli recently noted, the players could end up paying back escrow shortfalls from the pandemic for years if league revenues fail to substantially rebound over the next two or three seasons.

IN OTHER NEWS…

VANCOUVER SUN: Canucks winger Jake Virtanen is catching flak for failing to practice proper social distancing during a recent visit to a Vancouver nightclub. Several teammates took to Twitter condemning what they consider his reckless behavior, especially with the league set to implement the next phase of its’ return-to-play plan.

The Canucks say they’ve spoken with Virtanen, who hasn’t taken part in Phase 2 voluntary small-group training with the club. He will be tested before rejoining the team.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks signed an affiliate agreement with the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 30, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 30, 2020

The latest return-to-play news plus updates on Carey Price, Mikko Rantanen, Nick Foligno, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

RETURN-TO-PLAY UPDATES

NHL.COM: The NHL announced 26 players out of over 250 tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan began on June 8. Fifteen who took part in small-group training tested positive while an additional 11 tested positive outside the Phase 2 protocols. All have self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. Over 1, 450 tests have been implemented.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league didn’t indicate when those players contracted the coronavirus or the severity of their symptoms. Earlier reports indicated most were asymptomatic, with a small number having a low-grade fever. We also don’t know how many of those players have since recovered.

Those numbers will increase as more players report to their NHL cities ahead of Phase 3 (mandatory training camp) on July 10. Health and social distancing protocols will be stricter in Phase 3, though the league won’t be quarantining the players during that period.

TSN: Bob McKenzie reports a decision on the two host cities for the 24-team playoff tournament could come today. While the state of Nevada is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, Las Vegas could still be chosen as a host because it could have the best “locked-down” or “protected” bubble of the remaining candidates.

McKenzie also reports the league and the NHLPA appear to be getting closer toward an agreement on the final two phases of the return-to-plan plan and a CBA extension. A vote could come this week. July 10 is the tentative start date for Phase 3 but it could be pushed back a little with no effect upon the start of Phase 4 on July 30.

In a lengthy Twitter post, McKenzie pondered some possible changes in the CBA extension. He wanted to know if it would be 3 or 4 years or 3 years with a mutual opt-in/opt-out in year 4. He also wondered if there would be limitations on salary variance and signing bonuses, or opt-outs of the playoff tournament for players with existing medical conditions (diabetes, asthma, etc) or penalty-free opt-outs for those uncomfortable with taking part.

McKenzie points out the two sides still haven’t reached an agreement regarding bonus money owed on July 1. He also notes they must work out an international hockey calendar, but the Winter Olympics no longer appear a consideration.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Unless the bonus issue is part of the CBA extension, the two sides might need a separate agreement on that, perhaps a tentative on to push the bonuses to the end of October as they did with expiring contracts.

Until recently, it was believed the players were keen to return to the Olympics. If that’s no longer the case it’s probably because the changes in the NHL calendar over the next couple of years and ongoing concerns over the coronavirus could make participation in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games almost impossible.

THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Sean Shapiro reports the availability and location of hotels near American Airlines Arena played a major role in Dallas being ruled out as a potential hub city.

IN OTHER NEWS…

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens goaltender Carey Price returned to Montreal for the first time since the schedule was paused in mid-March.

NHL.COM: Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen skated with his teammates in Phase 2 training. Rantanen had been sidelined by an injured shoulder suffered in late February

Carolina Hurricanes goaltenders Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have recovered from their previous injuries. Sidelined defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, and Sami Vatanen could be ready to participate in the Phase 3 training camp.

TSN: Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said he and his teammates aren’t interested in the possibility of his club having a shot at winning the first-overall pick in the 2020 draft. “We play to win the Stanley Cup regardless,” he told SiriusXM NHL Network Radio. He added the No. 1 pick is management’s concern.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s a silly theory floated by some fans suggesting some teams in the qualifying round could tank to become eligible for the second phase of the draft lottery to determine the winner of the No. 1 pick. They’re not going to endure Phase 3 training camp followed by a locked-down Phase 4 tournament isolated from family and friends away from their home cities while undergoing constant COVID-19 testing just to have a 12.5 percent chance at winning the rights to Alexis Lafreniere. Their motivation is winning the Stanley Cup and helping the league recoup some of their $1.1 billion in losses from the COVID-19 shutdown. 

DETROIT FREE PRESS: The Red Wings canceled their prospect tournament in September and will conduct training camp for 2020-21 at Little Caesars Arena due to COVID-19.

THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): The sports-marketing agency Wasserman expanded its pool of European hockey talent by acquiring Acme World Sports. Acme’s clients include Boston’s Tuukka Rask, Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen, Dallas’ Esa Lindell, and Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen.

VANCOUVER SUN/TAMPA BAY TIMES: Vancouver Province sportswriter Tony Gallagher has been honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for journalism excellence. Tampa Bay Lightning play-by-play man Rick Peckham received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions by a broadcaster.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Congratulations to Gallagher and Peckham.










NHL Pushing Ahead for Playoff Tournament Despite Positive COVID-19 Tests

NHL Pushing Ahead for Playoff Tournament Despite Positive COVID-19 Tests

 










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 22, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 22, 2020

The latest on the return-to-play plan and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

PHILLY.COM: In the wake of Friday’s news of 11 NHL players testing positive for COVID-19 since June 8, Sam Carchidi wonders if the league’s return-to-play plan is worthwhile.

Why not just bag the season and start the next campaign after a vaccine has been developed?  The NHL would lose lots of TV revenue — estimates are around $500 million — but it would gain respect for putting lives ahead of dollars.”

Could recent COVID-19 tests threaten the NHL’s return-to-play plans?

Carchidi advocates a wait-and-see approach but feels the league should shut down plans to complete the season and look toward starting 2020-21 on time if virus cases balloon if/when training camp opens next month.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: One factor behind the NHL’s plans is the concern of a possible second wave of the pandemic keeping arenas empty throughout autumn. Staging the tournament from August through early October in empty arenas would allow the league to recoup perhaps half of its estimated $1.1 bn in losses. It would also enable the league to hold its off-season from late October to the end of December. It’s believed they intend to stage a full 2020-21 schedule starting on New Year’s Day in hope social distancing rules ease to allow fans back into the arenas.

The course of the pandemic, however, could upset those plans. League officials claim a handful of tests won’t shut things down as they’re confident their testing, contact tracing, and quarantine arrangements could keep the coronavirus in check. The training camp period, set to open next month, will test that theory.

STARTRIBUNE.COM: Sarah McLellan believes upcoming days will become more urgent for all parties to preserve July 10 as a viable start date for teams to reconvene. That’s when training camps are slated to open for the 24 teams involved in the playoff tournament.

An agreement between the league and NHL Players Association must be implemented soon to provide sufficient time for players to travel to their NHL cities. It’s unclear what effect the recent positive COVID-19 tests will have upon those plans.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league issued a terse statement on Friday acknowledging 11 players have tested positive under Phase 2. They also announced they’ll issue a weekly update of the number of tests administered to players and the results, though they won’t reveal the identities of those who test positive and what teams they play for.

I suspect the league will be pressed for further details as July 10 approaches. Recent reports suggest a comprehensive agreement between the league and PA could be revealed soon, perhaps by the end of this week.

VANCOUVER SUN: Ed Willes observed recent reports claim Vancouver is among six locales under consideration to become one of the two host cities for the NHL playoff tournament. He wonders if that’s a good idea for the city and the province after reducing their COVID-19 numbers due to strict social distancing guidelines. Willes doesn’t think it’s worthwhile for a tournament that will only benefit a couple of hotels and the foodservice industry.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The city council and provincial government made the pitch for Vancouver as a host city, assured by the league’s self-quarantine plan that the influx of 12 teams won’t be a risk to the general public. While the benefit to the local economy appears minimal, the city and the province see it differently.

NEWSDAY: Rangers winger Pavel Buchnevich was expected to arrive in New York yesterday after spending the scheduled pause in Russia. Other European Rangers, including Henrik Lundqvist and Mika Zibanejad, are expected to follow.

LAS VEGAS SUN: Vegas Golden Knights rookie Cody Glass isn’t expected to be on the club’s roster for the playoff tournament. He underwent knee surgery in March and isn’t expected to be fully recovered when the tournament begins.

THE DETROIT NEWS: Red Wings dietician Lisa McDowell revealed she contracted COVID-19 in March, leaving her very sick for three weeks. She suffered a high fever for over a week, difficulty breathing, and bleeding gums when brushing her teeth. McDowell said she was rarely around the team leading up to the pause in the schedule and hadn’t exposed anyone to the virus. She recovered in early April and feels stronger each day but indicated she’s not back to full strength yet.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Much is made about how NHL players could be less affected by COVID-19 because they’re high-performance athletes. McDowell isn’t in the same athletic class but she’s an accomplished runner. The virus could hit an NHL player just as hard.

NHL.COM: Martin Brodeur said he’s not interested in the role of New Jersey Devils general manager right now, even if the job was available. He told The Hockey News he’s happy in his current role as the club’s executive vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 20, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 20, 2020

Eleven players, including reportedly Auston Matthews, test positive for COVID-19. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

11 NHL PLAYERS TESTING POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

NHL.COM: The NHL released a statement yesterday indicating 11 players out of over 200 had tested positive for COVID-19 since the implementation of Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan on June 8. Those players have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols.

The statement also indicated the league will provide a weekly update on the number of tests administered to players and the results. It won’t provide information on the identity of the players or their teams.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (Photo via NHL Images).

The league’s statement came after the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily closed their training facilities after three players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The Lightning claimed the players have self-isolated and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever.

It also comes after the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons reported Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews tested positive for the coronavirus. Simmons claimed Matthews was self-quarantined at home and hopes to be healthy enough and eligible to travel to Toronto to take part in the Leafs’ camp on July 10.

The Leafs subsequently released a statement saying they would not comment on the Sun report and would adhere to the league’s policy. “A person’s medical information in this regard is private,” it said.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: These reports yesterday come as the league and the NHL Players’ Association continue negotiations toward opening training camp on July 10 under Phase 3 and staging a 24-team playoff tournament under Phase 4 beginning in August. The news generated plenty of reaction on social media among fans and pundits.

Many believe the league should cancel the season, citing those reports as evidence the players’ health and safety cannot be assured under the current return-to-play plan. Others, however, point out those recent numbers involve players living and training in two states (Florida and Arizona) where COVID-19 cases are rising. They also note players currently training under Phase 2 are more exposed to the general public, whereas they’ll be far more protected under the quarantine bubble envisioned by the league for Phase 4.

Nevertheless, these latest numbers should be cause for concern. Phase 3 sees the players returning to their NHL cities for a three-week training camp before moving on to the two host cities for Phase 4. While the teams and players will follow stricter health protocols for Phase 3, they’ll still face ongoing exposure from the general public, especially in areas where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

The NHL may have greater control over its playing environment under Phase 4, but getting to that point remains uncertain, especially if more players test positive in the coming weeks. It’s also likely to heighten concerns among the NHLPA membership, who have the power to shut this down if they lack confidence they will be suitably protected. 

The NHL also announced yesterday the approval of a cohort quarantine with the government of Canada for players entering the country, waiving the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. It paves the way for Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver to be chosen as one of the two host cities for the playoff tournament.

TORONTO SUN: Given the way COVID-19 cases are spiking in some parts of the United States, Lance Hornby suggests both host cities should be among those Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Las Vegas is considered among the favorites as one of the two hosts, but Nevada is also reportedly among the American states where coronavirus cases are rising. That could force the league to consider host cities where the pandemic curve is flattened or declining.

IN OTHER NEWS…

TSN: The Pittsburgh Penguins may be leaning toward Matt Murray as their starting goalie for the qualifying round of the 24-team tournament. The Penguins are slated to face the Montreal Canadiens.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given Murray’s playoff experience, including back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, it shouldn’t be surprising. Nevertheless, his performance and health during training camp will also factor into determining if he gets the nod to face the Habs.

NEW YORK POST: Kaapo Kakko’s doctors and the Rangers’ medical staff have agreed the rookie winger can take part in the Phase 3 training camp next month. Kakko is a type-1 diabetic who could be susceptible to complications if he contracts COVID-19.