No Lead Is Safe In The NHL This Season
More details emerge for the 2020-21 season plus the latest in Ilya Kovalchuk, Braden Holtby, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: With the NHL and NHLPA reaching a tentative agreement for the 2020-21 season, the league’s focus shifts toward negotiations with the five provincial health authorities for the seven Canadian franchises.
The league hopes those clubs will play this season in an all-Canadian division with each team hosting games in their own arenas. Darren Dreger reports NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly is directly involved in ongoing negotiations with the provinces.
Frank Seravalli reports the league has drafted strict protocols for road games. Players and team staff will be limited to the practice rink, game rink and hotel. No outside facilities, bars, restaurants or shops. All meals will be in the team hotel. No guests, no use of hotel fitness facilities, no housekeeping. There will also be assigned seats on chartered buses and planes, with in-flight catering where possible.
Ryan Rishaug reported last night the British Columbia government at this point remains unwilling to allow NHL teams to travel into the province for games. That might change as discussions continue.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli also indicated the NHL’s travel protocols continue to change based on input from the provincial health authorities. The league seems willing to do as much as possible to ensure the Canadian teams can stage their games in their own arenas.
Based on recent reports it appears the Vancouver Canucks could be the only club unable to start the season at home. That could change depending on the course of the league’s discussions with the province of British Columbia.
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports a league executive said one solution could be having the Canucks play their games in Edmonton until the situation is resolved. That would make more sense than moving all seven into one Canadian hub city or having them play all their games in the United States.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the NHL has scheduled a conference call for its Board of Governors for noon ET today and for the general managers at 2 pm ET.
Mark your calendars, NHL fans. The 2021 free-agent market is slated to open on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No word yet as to a tentative date for the 2021 trade deadline. It’s usually held 40 days before the last day of the regular season. If that calculation remains in place for this season, March 29 would be trade deadline day.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports the opt-out deadline to participate in this season for players on last year’s non-playoff teams is Dec. 24, with Dec. 27 for the others. Group II free agents (RFAs) must be signed by Feb. 11 to be eligible to play this season. Players on one-year contracts can extend on March 12.
THE SCORE: The San Jose Sharks will be hosting training camp and start the regular season in Arizona owing to COVID-19 restrictions in California’s Santa Clara County.
RDS.CA: A report out of Russia indicates Ilya Kovalchuk could return to the KHL for the coming season. The 37-year-old Kovalchuk reportedly hasn’t found any takers in the NHL free-agent market. He played in the KHL from 2012 to 2018 with St. Petersburg SKA. The report suggests he’ll sign with Avangard Omsk.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A once-dominant scorer, Kovalchuk struggled with the Los Angeles Kings upon his return to the NHL in 2018 and was bought out of his contract last fall. He showed flashes of his high-scoring form during a brief tenure with the Montreal Canadiens until traded to the Washington Capitals, where he was pretty much invisible during the Capitals’ disappointing performance in the 2020 playoffs.
SPORTSNET: After the design for his new mask was criticized as cultural appropriation, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby and his mask designer are collaborating with an Indigenous artist on a new design.
CALGARY SUN: The Flames signed defenseman Oliver Kylington to a one-year, two-way contract worth $787,500 at the NHL level.
THE BUFFALO NEWS: Former Sabres defenseman Nathan Paetsch has retired after 17 professional seasons. Paetsch played the bulk of his career in the AHL with the Rochester Americans, Grand Rapids Griffins and Syracuse Crunch. He spent parts of five NHL seasons with the Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Paetsch in his future endeavors.
The players could end up owing the owners millions of dollars by the end of this CBA, plus the latest on Braden Holtby, Nick Robertson, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPORTSNET: During the latest “31 Thoughts” podcast, Elliotte Friedman speculated the next round of collective bargaining between the NHL and NHL Players Association at the end of the current CBA could be affected by the players’ unwillingness to accept a higher rate of escrow and additional salary deferrals for the coming season.
Friedman noted the effects of COVID-19 upon hockey-related revenue means the players’ share for this season will exceed 50 percent. Under the terms of the CBA, the players have to repay any overage to the owners, but the 20 percent cap on escrow for 2020-21 means the players will still owe millions of dollars to the owners.
The players may feel vindicated by digging in their heels and forcing the league to adhere to the terms of the CBA. However, Friedman feels there’s a major bill coming due at the end of the current agreement that will be paid in large part by young players currently starting their NHL careers and those yet to come.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The players were within their rights under the CBA to reject the league’s requests for additional escrow and salary deferral. But as Friedman also noted, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was right when he indicated the players could end up paying back more at the end of this agreement if they didn’t pay that overage during the coming season.
This could set the stage for another contentious round of negotiations as the extension to the CBA expires in September 2026. Of course, that’s not a front-burner issue right now given the push for staging a season in the middle of a pandemic. Rest assured, however, it will take on greater significance during the final two years of the agreement.
Perhaps the two sides can work out a deal that avoids another potential work stoppage in six years’ time. That will require considerable foresight on both sides.
I don’t expect Bettman and the team owners to just let this issue lie. Sure, they need labor peace right now to get a shortened season underway in order to fulfill their broadcasting and advertising contracts and prepare to entertain bids for a more lucrative US television deal next summer. They also want to ensure a smooth path for the Seattle Kraken’s debut in 2021-22. However, the NHL could raise the overage issue with the players again at some point within the next couple of years.
THE SCORE: Josh Gold-Smith lists his winners and losers of the NHL’s proposed divisional realignment for the coming season. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs are among his clubs that benefit while the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks are among those that could suffer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some teams will be affected more than others by the quality of the opponents within their realigned divisions. Time zones and travel could also become a factor.
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby said he won’t wear the new Indigenous-themed mask he planned to use this season following complaints that it appropriated aboriginal culture. “I just wanted to make sure I apologize to anyone I had offended,” said Holtby.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nick Robertson won’t be joining Team USA at the upcoming World Junior Championship in Edmonton. The Leafs training camp is slated to open during the tournament.
AZCENTRAL.COM: Former hockey agency executive David Ludwig has been hired by the Arizona Coyotes as their new director of hockey operations and salary cap compliance.