NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 28, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 28, 2020

Reaction to the Blackhawks firing president John McDonough, more on the league’s attempts to resume the season, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines

BLACKHAWKS FIRE MCDONOUGH

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Chicago Blackhawks made a surprising move yesterday by firing John McDonough after 13 seasons as team president and CEO. Team chairman Rocky Wirtz issued a statement saying the move was based on the requirement for a “new mindset to successfully transition the organization to win both on and off the ice.”

Chicago Blackhawks fired team president John McDonough (Photo via NHL.com).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks have declined since winning their last Stanley Cup in 2015, prompting speculation suggesting Wirtz could shake up the front office and coaching staff. He gave McDonough, general manager Stand Bowman, and head coach Jeremy Colliton a vote of confidence earlier this season, but it’s apparent he’s had time to reconsider during the ongoing pause to this NHL season.

It’ll be interesting to see if more changes are coming to the Blackhawks organization. This unexpected move sparked some to suggest Wirtz’s popularity among Chicago fans could change, while others wondered about the effect upon the futures of Bowman and Colliton.

LATEST ON THE NHL’S PLANS TO RESUME THE SCHEDULE

SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reports NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is still determining if it’ll wait until it’s safe and permissible for all 31 teams to reopen practice facilities or if it’ll do so in waves. Sources indicate several teams are aiming to reopen their facilities for small-group practices by May 15, but that might not be possible in every jurisdiction.

Johnston also revealed possible timelines for what the schedule could look like in the coming months. May 15 to 31 would see informal, small-group skates, followed by training camps and exhibitions games in June. The remainder of the regular-season schedule and the playoffs would run from July 1 to Sept. 30. A compressed off-season calendar would run from Oct. 1 to mid-November, followed by training camps opening for 2020-21, with next season beginning in mid- to late-December.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That timeline isn’t carved in stone. The course of this pandemic will determine how that potential schedule plays out. League officials insist they’ll resume action only when it’s safe to do so.

ESPN.COM: Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon believes this season should be completed this summer assuming there’s sufficient testing for COVID-10. He also feels the 2020-21 season should start when fans are allowed to return to the arenas. The Hurricanes are among several clubs examining the economic impact of capping attendance at a lower capacity for next season.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ken Campbell reports one of Canada’s leading experts on infectious diseases believes the NHL’s plan to resume play this summer could have legs if it works in concert with public health officials. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an associate professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, believes the plan could work provided there’s a sustained decline in COVID-19 cases.

“It’s going to be a value judgment on behalf of many different groups,” said Bogoch. “This is truly shared decision-making. You can look at all the data and what the proposal is and at the end of the day those groups together will have to decide together, is it worth it, yes or no?”

THE DENVER POST: Mike Chambers reports player agents Kurt Overhardt and KO Sports associate Brian Schoelzel proposed a voluntary player exemption rule that would allow NHL teams to prevent their highest-paid player from counting towards the salary cap.

Overhardt believes this would leave more money for the player’s teammates, as well as allow clubs to sign more players to make their rosters more competitive. Clubs that don’t wish to use that exemption would receive luxury-tax funds paid by teams that do participate. Overhardt’s plan would have to be part of the next collective bargaining agreement once the current one expires in 2022.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Whether that exemption is part of the next CBA remains to be seen. It could gain support among NHL teams if the COVID-19 pandemic creates an adverse, long-term effect upon hockey-related revenue.

OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league intends to decide on when they’ll stage the 2020 Draft “relatively soon.” There’s talk the draft could be held in June before the regular season resumes in July.

Garrioch also reports the American Hockey League could announce the cancelation of the remainder of its season by May 8.

IN OTHER NEWS…

MLIVE.COM: The Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers are assisting General Motors’ efforts to increase mask production for frontline works battling the coronavirus pandemic.

TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin made a sizable, unspecified donation to the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh on Monday.

NBC SPORTS: The San Jose Sharks unveiled a plan to provide grants to 1,800 part-time workers at the team’s arena and practice facility who are unable to work because of the pandemic.

TSN: Former NHL forward Joel Ward announced his retirement after 11 NHL seasons with the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks. In 726 games, Ward tallied 133 goals and 304 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ward was an undrafted player from the Canadian college ranks who played his way into the big league. Best wishes to the former UPEI Panther in his future endeavors.










Where Do the Carolina Hurricanes Go From Here?

Where Do the Carolina Hurricanes Go From Here?

The Carolina Hurricanes surprised the NHL world last week by removing Ron Francis as general manager and making him president of hockey operations. The question now is, what direction will they take under his eventual replacement?

Francis’ “promotion” follows a similar path by the Florida Panthers two years ago. They kicked long-time general manager Dale Tallon upstairs in the president of hockey ops role and placed Tom Rowe into the GM chair.

That move lasted less than a year, during which the Panthers also dumped Gerard Gallant as head coach early in the 2016-17 campaign. They went on to miss the playoffs after winning the Atlantic Division crown in 2015-16 with a franchise-record 103-point performance. At season’s end, Tallon returned as general manager while Rowe was reduced to an advisory role.

Tom Dundon, who took over as majority owner in January, will try to avoid repeating that scenario. He apparently wasn’t pleased with Francis’ conservative style of team building. With the Hurricanes poised to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight year, Dundon felt the time was right for a management shakeup.

During Francis’ nearly four-year tenure as Hurricanes GM, he cleared up some much-needed salary-cap room and restocked their prospect pool. He also added scoring winger Teuvo Teravainen via trade and drafted winger Sebastian Aho and defenseman Noah Hanifin.

Francis, however, never made a player-for-player trade. He failed to adequately address the Hurricanes’ need for scoring punch, especially at center. Last summer’s acquisitions of goaltender Scott Darling and checking forwards Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris did nothing to improve the club’s fortunes.

The Hurricanes aren’t wasting time finding a replacement for Francis.

 

Whoever they hire will be expected to make some bold moves starting this summer. Dundon will likely want significant, immediate results for next season.

Determining the fate of head coach Bill Peters could be the first decision. While Peters avoided the ax this time, the new GM could prefer hiring his own coaching staff. Dundon probably won’t stand in his way.

Turning to the Hurricanes roster, Cap Friendly indicates they have over $48.4-million invested in 12 players for 2018-19. Restricted free agents include Hanifin, forward Elias Lindholm and blueliner Trevor van Riemsdyk, while long-time Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and winger Lee Stempniak are the noteworthy unrestricted free agents.

The Hurricanes won’t have to break the bank re-signing their key free agents. Hanifin, 21, is blossoming into a solid top-four defenseman and could be in line for a significant raise. As he’s coming off an entry-level deal, the new GM could try re-signing him to a short-term bridge deal. He could also follow Francis’ lead and re-sign the youngster to a lengthy affordable long-term contract similar to those of blueliners Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.

Francis was reluctant to draw upon his blueline depth to bolster his offense, but his successor could be willing to go down that path. Hanifin, Slavin or Pesce could be dangled for an established young scorer. 

The Montreal Canadiens need defensive depth and forwards Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk were fixtures in this season’s trade-rumor mill. Perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs might part with William Nylander or Mitch Marner for someone such as Hanifin.

Another option could be free agency. If Dundon is willing to spend toward what could be an $80-million salary-cap ceiling, the Hurricanes will have plenty of dollars to bid competitively for the best UFA talent. Among their targets could be the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, San Jose’s Evander Kane, Boston’s Rick Nash, Vegas’ James Neal or David Perron and Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny.

Having the ability to pay big bucks for the top free agents, however, doesn’t mean the Hurricanes will land any of them. It’ll take a considerable sell job to sway those veterans into joining a team struggling to emerge from nearly a decade of mediocrity. 

Goaltending will also be an issue for Francis’ successor. With Darling signed through 2020-21 at an annual salary-cap hit of $4.125-million and carrying a modified no-trade clause, shipping him out this summer could prove difficult. He’ll probably be retained for at least another season and given an opportunity to rebound from this season’s miserable effort. The 34-year-old Ward is well past his best-before date. He’ll likely be allowed to depart as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

This year’s free-agent goalie market, however, isn’t very deep, stocked with aging netminders past their prime (Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Ondrej Pavelec), veteran backups (Jonathan Bernier, Michael Hutchinson) and the once-promising Petr Mrazek. The trade market isn’t much better, with perhaps Buffalo’s Robin Lehner as the best of the bunch.

Dundon and new general manager must avoid the temptation to chase quick fixes via trades or free agency. Whatever moves they make must work for both the short and long term. They can’t fall into the trap of acquiring expensive veterans who become costly long-term busts, eating up valuable cap space and setting back their rebuilding efforts.