The latest on the return-to-play discussions, four Golden Knights test positive for COVID-19, the Bruins sign Jake DeBrusk and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch cited NHL insider Nick Kypreos saying there were no discussions over the weekend between the league and the NHL Players Association for the first time in weeks regarding the 2020-21 season.
The league remains focused on a Jan. 1 start but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly suggested several times that date is flexible and could be pushed back a week or two.
Garrioch believes it’s been quiet of late because the two sides have likely retreated to their offices to come up with a plausible agreement acceptable to the owners. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk last week indicated not all the 31 owners are on board with the plan put forward because of the losses they’ll face for 2020-21. The players last week rejected two requests from the league for increased escrow and salary deferral rates.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy reported “a prominent agent” said talks are currently at a standstill. Three other player agents wondered when is enough with the constant concessions the players have made since the 2004-05 lockout. One accused league commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners of using the pandemic to squeeze more out of the players. Another agent claims he knows of five or six owners seriously questioning if it makes sense to stage a season.
Murphy feels the longer negotiations drag on, the more NHL and AHL players could head overseas to play in Europe, particularly those on two-way contracts who finished last season in the AHL. He also cites a league source suggesting a Feb. 5 start date for the season remains an option.
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan reports Bettman is dealing with a handful of disgruntled owners, with some believing they got a bad deal in the new collective bargaining agreement and a few telling the commissioner they’d prefer not to play if there are no fans because of operating losses.
According to a source, Bettman is “managing” those owners, telling them sitting out the season isn’t an option because of the damage to the league’s long-term health. However, he is trying to address their concerns, which include an infusion of cash to start the season, hence the league’s requests to the players last week.
Kaplan reports sources indicated the players remain willing to work with the league because it’s in everyone’s best interest to stage a season. If the league is trying to borrow money from the players, the PA could seek concessions such as increased health insurance for players in retirement. Kaplan also notes the NHL owners will be getting $650 million in expansion fees in 2021-22 plus a new U.S. Television deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This stalemate between the league and the PA could stretch on for weeks and put the 2020-21 season into jeopardy. But as long as Bettman and the players remain determined to return to play, the less likely the season will be canceled. There appears a genuine desire on both sides to get this done, though there’s no denying the league’s recent requests have stalled negotiations.
Barring a significant breakthrough by the end of this week, I think we can forget about the Jan. 1 start date. As Garrioch pointed out, Daly has previously suggested that start date was flexible. It could be anywhere between mid-January and mid-February, though the earlier the better if they hope to stage a meaningful schedule.
OTHER NOTABLE NHL HEADLINES
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Four Vegas Golden Knights players have tested positive for COVID-19. The club confirmed their status but declined to identify them. The four are in self-isolation and “recovering well.” The club is taking precautionary measures by closing their off-ice training facilities and player areas to players and staff through Sunday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This serves as a reminder that the pandemic will still affect the players if the 2020-21 season takes place. Without playing in a quarantine bubble as they did during the 2020 playoffs, they risk exposure to the coronavirus even with increased testing and strict health and safety protocols.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: The Bruins signed restricted free agent winger Jake DeBrusk to a two-year contract worth an annual average value of $3.675 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: DeBrusk had the bad luck to complete an entry-level contract in the midst of a pandemic that adversely affected the NHL salary cap. While his agent had suggested his client was worth $6 million per season, there was no way he was going to get that much from the Bruins or from another club via an offer sheet under the current economic conditions.
It’s a good deal for the Bruins because they get DeBrusk under contract at a reasonable short-term deal that also leaves enough cap space for other moves. The young winger still gets a decent raise and a chance for a much better deal in two years times when he’ll have arbitration rights in a potentially better economic climate.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi is leaving Finnish club Pori Assat and returning to Montreal in what’s considered a sign the club is preparing to stage its training camp soon. Kotkaniemi will begin a 14-day quarantine upon his return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: He’s not the only player skating in Europe coming back to North America. If more players follow suit it’ll signal the league and the PA are close to a return-to-play agreement.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: The Blackhawks hired Kendall Coyne Schofield as a player development coach and youth hockey growth specialist. She’s the organization’s first-ever female development coach. They also hired former NHL player Erik Condra as a player development coach.
WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets hired Dave Lowry as an assistant coach. The father of Jets center Adam Lowry said he doesn’t expect any issues with the two working for the same team.
NHL.COM: The Florida Panthers hired Shane Churla as their director of amateur scouting. The former NHL player spent the past seven seasons with the Canadiens scouting staff. He also spent seven seasons as an amateur scout with the Dallas Stars and another five in the same role with the Arizona Coyotes.