The latest on the hub cities bids, Red Wings confirm Jeff Blashill will return as head coach, plus the latest on Alex Ovechkin, Max Domi, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
WILL A CANADIAN CITY BECOME AN NHL HUB?
TSN: Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver are among the 10 under consideration to serve as the two host cities for the NHL’s 24-team tournament to determine the 2020 Stanley Cup champion. However, they will be out of the running if the Canadian government doesn’t exempt NHL players from its 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for non-essential travelers crossing the Canadian border. The league indicated it will decide on the two host cities in another three or four weeks.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has sent a letter to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau encouraging the federal government to deem professional athletes and training staff as essential workers. BC Premier John Horgan also hopes Vancouver will become a hub city but said his province’s 14-day self-quarantine rule will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
TORONTO SUN: Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan isn’t calling on the local or provincial governments to push for Toronto as a host city. Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of heritage, sports, and tourism, is willing to make the case with the federal government.
Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan (Photo via NHL.com).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The U.S. government recently signed legislation deeming pro athletes essential workers, lifting restrictions on NHL players from other countries traveling to work into the United States. If the Canadian government doesn’t follow suit, both hub cities will be in the U.S.
Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Columbus are believed among the leading candidates, but they could have competition from Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is allowing sports teams in his state to return to action, and the Penguins have submitted a bid to become an NHL host.
LATEST ON THE NHL RETURN TO PLAY FORMAT
THE HOCKEY NEWS: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the expanded 24-team playoff format is a one-off. “I think our regular season is incredible. Our competitive balance is extraordinary. Our playoffs are the best in sports. What we have is terrific. This is dealing with a unique situation. This, in my view, is a one-time thing.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some observers wondered if the league would considering expanding future playoffs if the 24-team format proves popular with fans. While Bettman is shooting down that possibility, one can’t help but wonder if the expansion of the league to 32 teams might see some within the league push for a 20-team format.
ESPN.COM: Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the NHL Players’ Association, said the PA will defer to the proper health authorities if a player tests positive for COVID-19 during the tournament. He expects management will pick up the costs of testing players and considers it unlikely a player will be suspended or have their contract terminated for testing positive for the coronavirus.
Fehr also said the PA continues to negotiate with the league regarding players with underlying medical conditions, living in hub cities, separation from families, and critical dates calendar, but believes the two sides will find resolutions to those issues. He wouldn’t say how much the remaining decisions might be tied to a new collective bargaining agreement. Asked if the relationship between the league and the PA has been collaborative, Fehr declined to “put any adjectives” on it, suggesting people would interpret it in different ways.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Despite Fehr’s comments, the two sides are working together to come up with an acceptable return-to-play plan. There’s been plenty of reports since the summer of 2018 over the appearance of an improved negotiating relationship regarding a new CBA. Nevertheless, time will tell if this means labor peace is on the horizon.
THE SCORE: listed six deals that could be in limbo involving conditional draft picks. Among them, Toronto’s conditional first-round pick sent to Carolina last June in the Patrick Marleau trade, the two picks Arizona sent to New Jersey in the Taylor Hall trade, and Vancouver’s 2020 first-round pick sent to Tampa Bay for J.T. Miller that was later sent to New Jersey to acquire Blake Coleman.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE DETROIT NEWS: Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said Jeff Blashill will return as head coach next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wings are in the midst of a major rebuild. Blashill couldn’t be faulted for the lack of skilled depth throughout the roster this season.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya welcomed their second son Ilya on Wednesday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Congratulations to the Ovechkins.
TVA SPORTS: Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said the team and the league would never put Max Domi in a situation that would expose him to COVID-19. Domi is diabetic and more susceptible to contracting the virus. Bergevin said Domi won’t play if the medical staff says he can’t play.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Safe to say that will apply to all NHL players with underlying medical conditions.
Bergevin also said Jonathan Drouin is cleared to play, but Jesperi Kotkaniemi might not be fully recovered from his spleen injury to take part in the qualifying round.
AMNY.COM: New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech has been cleared to play. He’d been sidelined since January with an Achilles injury. Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Johnny Boychuk will also be ready to participate in the qualifying round.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bjugstad underwent season-ending surgery on Tuesday to repair a herniated disc
WGR 550: Buffalo Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut is reportedly considering signing a contract with a KHL team. However, this could be a negotiating ploy on his part. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
SPORTSNET: NHL Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree and former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy are among the 11 new inductees into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. O’Ree has been involved in many diversity initiatives at all levels of hockey, while Kennedy has spent years advocating to protect vulnerable athletes and victims of sexual abuse.