NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 17, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 17, 2020

The NHL hopes to return to action by mid-May at the earliest, rumors of a 24-team postseason format and much more in today’s morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The league yesterday allowed its players to return to their homes outside their NHL cities. They also indicated the players’ self-quarantine should continue through March 27. After that, and depending on world developments regarding the COVID-19 virus, consideration will be given to opening club facilities to small groups of players for voluntary training. The league also indicated its objective is to open training camps 45 days into the 60 days as recommended by the CDC directive.

THE DENVER POST: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there is an “outside date” beyond which saving the 2019-20 season would be unfeasible. “We haven’t ruled anything in or anything out — other than it’s got to be the right thing in terms of the well-being of our players and our fans.”

Could there be a 24-team format for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs?

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It appears the league’s best-cast scenario is returning to action by May 15. However, Bettman’s comments suggest they’re prepared for the possibility of canceling the season.

SPORTSNET: The NHL also implemented a roster freeze effective at 5 pm ET yesterday.

SPORTING NEWS: The league is said to be considering a 24-team playoff format among its options.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That would mean clubs with slim playoff hopes, such as the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks, would qualify. I prefer a 20-team format involving clubs jockeying for wild-card berths at the time the schedule was paused. 

ARIZONA SPORTS: Coyotes defenseman Aaron Ness tested negative for COVID-19.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Glad to hear Ness is okay. As of this posting, no NHL players tested positive for the virus. Here’s hoping none of them get it. For that matter, here’s hoping all of you stay safe and healthy.

THE BOSTON GLOBE: Bruins captain Zdeno Chara sent a message for Bruins fans to “stay safe, disciplined and clean” during this troubling time.

WINNIPEG SUN: Jets captain Blake Wheeler urged fans to stay home and “limit your exposure to keep yourself and those in your community safe.”

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Jets fans might not soon forget the club’s seeming reluctance to compensate their part-time arena employees affected by the COVID-19 shutdown on major events.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I doubt there will be a lingering backlash toward any club seen as foot-dragging when it comes to compensating its part-time arena staff. It will be largely forgotten whenever hockey returns, be it mid-May or in the fall if this season gets cancelled.

OTTAWA SUN: The Senators yesterday announced its part-time staff affected by the pause in the NHL schedule will receive compensation.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets also revealed it would aid its hourly game-day workers.

SPORTSNET: Montreal Canadiens players also intend to financially assist team and arena staff. The club announced Sunday it would “pay employees eligible for employee insurance the maximum amount allowed (approximately 40 percent) and employees ineligible for employee insurance 75 percent of the salary for the 12 home games remaining between the Canadiens and AHL’s Laval Rocket.” The players will help those employees make up the difference.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Teams that appeared slow to compensate employees, like the Senators, were publicly dragged on social media. Some, like the Jets, whose ownership publicly doubled down on its refusal to assist those workers before caving to public pressure, deserved the backlash. In other cases, however, the criticism was unwarranted. Some clubs took a little more time because they were exploring all options to determine the best one for everyone involved.

SPORTSNET: The AHL will maintain suspension of its season until May.

THE SCORE: Former NHL goaltender Jonas Hiller announced his retirement. He spent nine seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, totaling a record of 197 wins, 140 losses, and 37 overtime losses, with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He spent the past four seasons in Switzerland.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Hiller in his retirement.