NHL ProteauType: Wild Are Turning Corner, But Still Not Stanley Cup Contenders
More details on the plans to open the 2020-21 season on Jan. 13, the Flyers sign Philippe Myers, the Panthers’ expand their goalie coaching staff, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
MORE DETAILS EMERGE REGARDING 2020-21 NHL SEASON PLANS
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the NHL understands that COVID-19 could affect the 2020-21 schedule. They are working on some empty days within the schedule to allow postponed games to be played.
LeBrun also indicates the league cannot go into a shortened season during a pandemic with the same rules governing roster limits. A proposal has been made to the NHLPA for expanded rosters indicating how many players each club can carry and “taxi squads”.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a taxi squad is a group of players under contract with a team who practice with the club but aren’t on the roster. They are allowed to join the team if injuries occur. Taxi squads would address the difficulties of attempting to call up players from the minors during the pandemic.
The NHLPA held a conference call yesterday to bring the 31 player reps up to speed on the latest development. A conference call with the NHL Board of Governors is slated for today.
Darren Dreger reports there will be an opt-out option for players unwilling to participate in the coming season due to COVID-19. Mandatory vaccinations have also been discussed and agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA.
Frank Seravalli reports the Canadian teams that lack AHL affiliates in Canada (Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton) will use the taxi squad system to keep some players stashed in their home cities. The other four clubs plan to play their AHL affiliates in an all-Canadian division.
He also reports there won’t be any compliance buyouts to allow teams to garner cap relief by shedding salary without penalty.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Normal buyouts for players 26-and-older count against the salary cap as two-thirds the remaining value over twice the remaining term of the contract and one-third over twice the remaining term for players 25-and-younger.
Seravalli indicates local health authorities will play a role in determining if certain teams, such as the San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets, will be allowed to open the season in their home arenas.
It will take a two-thirds majority of the NHL board of governors to approve the plan for this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Recent reports indicated some owners would prefer not playing this season if they don’t get some financial relief to offset some of their losses from a shortened schedule. Speculation suggests they number around a half-dozen, which wouldn’t be sufficient to vote down the plan for this season.
The NHL and the NHLPA agreed to abide by the rules of the CBA, meaning the league has backed off from its request for $300 million in higher escrow and salary deferral from the players. The NHL might have to consider other options, such as taking out loans, to address that financial need for some of its unhappy owners.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan report the majority of the owners and players prefer a baseball-style three-game series. Hybrid bubbles or hub cities are a possibility to start the season, where teams would travel and play up to 10 games in two weeks and return home for a week.
Those hubs would be similar to those in Edmonton and Toronto during the playoffs but less strict. New Jersey, Columbus and Las Vegas are under consideration as those arenas have just one tenant, two sheets of ice and suitable nearby accommodation.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports clauses in television contracts requiring a certain number of games and/or weeks to fulfill obligations are a major factor in the sudden rush to start the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fulfilling those obligations will also help the league in its quest for a more lucrative US national broadcasting deal following this season.
COLORADO HOCKEY NOW’s Adrian Dater tweets a league source claims training camp will open on Jan. 3 with the regular season opening on Jan. 13. “It’s not official yet, but this is what the players are hearing/being told.”
TORONTO SUN: Former Sportsnet analyst John Shannon told Lance Hornby a Canadian division will provide unique challenges for travel and broadcasting games.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens sports science and performance director Pierre Allard is telling his players to ensure they’re ready for the upcoming season. The focus is on ensuring they’re in good health and condition to avoid injury during a compressed schedule.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a concern undoubtedly shared by the other NHL clubs based on reports in recent weeks of players engaged in voluntary workouts and off-ice training to prepare for the coming season.
IN OTHER NEWS…
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: The Flyers announced Philippe Myers signed a three-year, $7.65 million contract. The 23-year-old defenseman was a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That $2.55 million annual average value is a very affordable deal for the Flyers. Myers is expected to skate alongside Ivan Provorov on their top defense pairing. If he thrives in that role he’ll be in line for a more lucrative long-term contract in three year’s time.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Panthers hired Francois Allaire as a goaltending consultant. He’ll be reunited with former pupil Roberto Luongo, who’s now a special advisor to general manager Bill Zito.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Former Pittsburgh Penguins minor-league assistant coach Jarrod Skalde has accused the club of violating whistleblower laws after he reported a superior for sexually assaulting his wife. The lawsuit claims then-Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin informed Skalde the superior was being terminated from his position but instructed him the reasons had to be kept quiet and not be let out. Guerin, now GM of the Minnesota Wild, denies the allegation.
Check out the latest on the Maple Leafs and the Wild in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons doesn’t believe Kyle Dubas should be fired, but feels the Maple Leafs general manager could be looking for work in a year if he hasn’t reversed the club’s fortunes by then.
Simmons feels Dubas has to strengthen the Leafs after turning over almost half the roster last summer, weakening their depth in the process. The top of the roster wasn’t productive enough, the bottom of the roster not good enough, and the team defense was taken advantage of physically during puck battles.
Simmons called on Dubas to make bold changes via trades or free agency. He wondered if the Leafs GM will come back with goaltender Frederik Andersen next season or look for someone like Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, who Dubas knows from their days with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds. He also noted there are desperate teams with salary-cap issues, roster issues, disappointed owners, or those like Pittsburgh and Nashville that have somehow lost their way.
TORONTO STAR: Dave Feschuk also wondered what Dubas has in store for the Leafs. He notes that fans and pundits are calling on the Leafs GM to trade William Nylander, or Mitch Marner, or Kasperi Kapanen and/or Andreas Johnsson. While Dubas could stubbornly stick to his plan, Feschuk suggests he needs to adjust it, pointing out the Leafs had this season’s sixth-worst goals-against per game.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The bloom is definitely off the Dubas rose. He’ll be under tremendous pressure to improve the Leafs this off-season.
Dubas isn’t afraid to make bold moves (signing Tavares and acquiring Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and Cody Ceci). The problem is those decisions failed to address the Leafs’ glaring weaknesses. He must get it right this off-season or the calls for his dismissal will grow.
The Leafs GM has limited salary-cap space to work with, carrying over $76.9 million invested in 17 players. He and his capologist were able to free up sufficient cap space last summer to re-sign Marner, but they’ll have to get more creative this year to address the club’s issues. Fixing those problems could mean moving one of the Leafs’ top forwards, or one or two of their more affordable secondary scorers.
TWINCITIES.COM: Dane Mizutani reports Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin knows his club is a long way from being a Stanley Cup contender. “There definitely have to be changes,” he said. “We haven’t had success here. Things need to get better. That’s just the way it is.”
Guerin indicated he’ll attempt to land a true first-line center, indicating that will likely come via free agency or the draft. “Teams don’t trade No. 1 centers. They just don’t,” he said. The Wild GM also indicated he was unhappy with his goaltending this season and didn’t rule out looking outside the organization for help.
Guerin will meet with pending UFA Mikko Koivu and intends to get started on contract extension talks with players such as Kevin Fiala. Jonas Brodin, Marcus Foligno, and Joel Eriksson Ek. He also said contract buyouts are a last resort, but Mizutani speculates Victor Rask could be a buyout candidate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Guerin took his time evaluating his roster until midseason when he traded Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh and replaced Bruce Boudreau as head coach with Dean Evason. He’ll start putting a bigger stamp on this team through the offseason.
Several good goalies are available in this summer’s UFA market, but Guerin might stick with his current netminders next season to buy time for promising Kaapo Kahkonen. The current tandem (Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock) are under contract for next season, meaning one of them will have to be moved to acquire another netminder.
There aren’t any No.1 centers available in this year’s UFA market. Guerin could draft a promising center this year but that prospect won’t address that need next season. If he can’t find help in the trade market, he could try the offer sheet route. With over $65 million invested in 17 players, that’s probably not a wise course of action.
Rask has an annual average value of $4 million through 2021-22. Mizutani pointed out a buyout will leave the Wild with over $1.33 million in dead cap space through 2023-24.
Brendan Shanahan and Bill Guerin remain optimistic the season will resume, the latest on Chris Kreider, the league rejects the Blue Jackets’ signing Mikhail Grigorenko, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan believes the sidelined NHL 2019-20 season could resume at some point in the coming months. He indicated there’s plenty of determination between team owners and players to return to action, but he also stressed it would be determined by having health care services becoming better prepared to cope with and contain the coronavirus.
Nevertheless, Shanahan feels the NHL has more flexibility to resume its schedule than most people realize. “I don’t really believe stories of these crazy neutral sites. I still always think if we’re going to do this it’s going to be in a hockey market. A market where the infrastructure for putting on hockey and hockey games is available.” Shanahan doubts the season would resume with fans in attendance, but feels there would be an appetite for games on television.
NHL.COM: Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin also believes the season will resume in empty arenas later this year. “The bottom line is, we’re not doing anything unless it’s safe for everybody. And if it is, I think we will, and I think it would be the right thing to do. It’ll be a little unusual, a little unorthodox, but that’s OK. If we just wrap our arms around it and accept it, it will be fine. Once we start playing hockey, you play hockey.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Critics will consider Shanahan’s and Guerin’s comments as wishful thinking. Perhaps it is, but it reflects the genuine desire among the league and the NHL Players’ Association to complete the season, award the Stanley Cup, and recoup some of their lost revenue. The course of the coronavirus, however, remains the determining factor.
ESPN.COM: New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider said his recovery from a foot fracture is going well. He anticipates he’ll be ready to return to the lineup if the NHL season resumes this summer.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blues Jackets signing Mikhail Grigorenko to a one-year, $1.2- million contract yesterday was rejected by the NHL Central Registry. The Jackets issued a statement indicating it was due to a misunderstanding over the window for filing contracts. “We have been in contact with the league and Dan Milstein, Grigorenko’s agent, and the contract will be re-filed on July 1.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Grigorenko finished his contract with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow and is considered an unrestricted free agent. However, the Jackets cannot officially sign him until July 1, which is when the league’s free-agent period begins. That date could change depending on whether the league resumes its season this summer. Grigorenko could sign with another NHL club, but I think he’ll stick with the Jackets as they refile in July or later this summer.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford indicated everyone in his club’s various hockey operations departments have been regularly discussing contingency plans for the remainder of the season, including the draft and free agency. He said they’ve been talking four or five days a week.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes have held calls with their players to review the season and looking ahead. “We had 15, 20 minutes per guy, talking,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “It’s not exit meetings because I still believe that we’re going to play in the next couple months, I’m trying to be optimistic. But I think it’s important that you stay connected with the team. I know it’s a little harder to do that.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I suspect every club is doing the same as the Penguins and Coyotes. Talking to their players while the hockey ops map out its plans for resuming the season and the off-season.
TSN: The Ottawa Senators hired Anthony LeBlanc as their president of business operations. The former Blackberry executive served as president, chief executive officer and alternate governor of the Arizona Coyotes from 2013 to 2017. LeBlanc replaced Jim Little, who was fired six weeks ago after less than two months on the job followed a heated disagreement with team owner Eugene Melnyk.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best of luck ot LeBlanc in his new job. He’s gonna need it.
Which players should the Kings trade this season? Are there changes in store for the Wild? What next for Jesse Puljujarvi? The latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
A LOOK AT SEVERAL KINGS TRADE CANDIDATES
THE ATHLETIC: Josh Cooper wondered if Los Angeles Kings general manager Rob Blake might be too patient with his rebuild. He feels the longer Blake waits, the more likely he’ll be dealing from a position of weakness. He suggested forwards Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli and defenseman Alec Martinez as the Kings’ best trade candidates.
Carter was rumored to have threatened retirement last season if the Kings attempted to trade him. A rival GM said Carter didn’t have much asset value. (Spector’s note: In an earlier version, I wrote Carter has a no-movement clause. He lacks no-trade protection. My apologies for the error)
The same goes for Toffoli, who could fetch a second-round pick and second-tier prospect. Martinez has been steady this season and would be attractive to rival clubs.
Cooper doesn’t expect winger Ilya Kovalchuk, goalie Jonathan Quick or forward Trevor Lewis to attract much interest. Kovalchuk has a no-movement clause and is in decline. Quick’s numbers have tanked plus he carries a $5.8-million annual salary-cap hit. An NHL scout said every team has a player like Lewis, meaning he has little-to-no trade value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Toffoli could be traded unless he and the Kings hammer out a contract extension before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. He’s a two-way forward and a former 30-goal scorer. However, his performance has declined since last season. He won’t bring in much of a return unless his play improves.
Carter is 34 and his best years are well behind him. He’s signed through 2021-22 with an annual average value of $5.275 million. The Kings would have to pick up a hefty chunk of that cap hit. That might not be enough to tempt other clubs.
Martinez might draw the best return. The 32-year-old carries an affordable $4 million AAV through 2020-21 and lacks no-trade protection. I expect he’ll draw plenty of attention in the trade market once the calendar flips to January.
LATEST ON THE WILD
TWINCITIES.COM: Dane Mizutani reports Minnesota Wild first-year GM Bill Guerin isn’t ready to give up on this season. He’s encouraged by what he’s seen from their recent West Coast road trip and thinks they could be heading in the right direction. He didn’t rule out making a move to help his club if the opportunity arises. However, he also didn’t rule out a roster rebuild if things don’t improve as the season progresses.
Guerin’s biggest need is a game-breaker, something the Wild’s been lacking since Marian Gaborik left town. He acknowledged it’s nearly impossible landing that player via trade as historically they tend to come through the draft. He was also non-committal over the future of head coach Bruce Boudreau. His contract expires at the end of this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wild have recovered somewhat from an awful start to this season. However, they’ve still got a lot of ground to cover to get back into the playoff chase. Time remains on their side but they cannot afford any more long winless skids. Once we get to mid-January, I expect we’ll have a better idea of what Guerin has in store for the Wild.
PULJUJARVI TO STAY IN FINLAND THIS SEASON
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples believes it’s a good idea Jesse Puljujarvi will play out this season in Finland. The 21-year-old winger is coming off major surgery and a bad season with the Edmonton Oilers that damaged his confidence.
A restricted free agent, Puljujarvi opted to return to Finland while awaiting a trade by the Oilers. He could still be moved but that seems less likely now. A strong season in Finland could improve his trade value next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Even with Puljujarvi off to a good start in Finland, he was unlikely to fetch a decent return right now. Better to wait and see how things unfold over the remainder of the season and attempt to move him next summer.