NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 20, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 20, 2020

Discussions continue over a 24-team tournament format, several cities pushing to become playoff hubs, Canada-USA border closure an issue, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.


TSN: Darren Dreger reports there is concern within the NHL and the NHL Players Association return-to-play committee over the fairness of returning with a 24-team tournament that would determine a 16-team post-season. Under that format, the Montreal Canadiens (a non-playoff team under normal standards) would face a good playoff club like the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Should they be at an equal position starting at the play-in of the 24-team format?”, asked Dreger, adding this must be resolved before the two sides sign off on this scenario.

Pierre LeBrun reported constant dialogue among the return-to-play committee since Saturday. “The hope is for resolution over the next 7-10 days but no guarantee,” said LeBrun.

NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports multiple sources are claiming the remarkable reputation of Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price among his peers raised concern over the unfairness of facing him in a best-of-three series. He claims there’s growing support for a best-of-five opening-round would temper the impact of a hot goalie in a short series.

Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price (Photo via NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some fans and pundits consider Price past his prime, but the Canadiens goaltender remains highly respected among his peers. He’s probably not the only reason players and general managers aren’t keen for a best-of-three opening-round format, but he’s a good example of the concerns raised about the fairness of the 24-team tournament. 

NATIONAL POST: Michael Traikos wonders if a 24-team playoff format could become the norm following this season. Expanding the postseason would generate more money for the owners, especially since revenue could be lower next season because of the pandemic.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expanding the playoff format was being bandied about by several pundits before the pandemic. If the proposed 24-team tournament proves popular with fans this summer, the league could consider implementing that format permanently. 


THE SCORE: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly remains optimistic about the league’s plans to resume play despite the recent 30-day extension of the border closure between Canada and the United States to non-essential travel. “I remain hopeful that today’s announcement will not materially impact our return to play planning,” said Daly. Non-essential travel is considered tourism, recreation, and entertainment.

TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the league and the PA aren’t concerned about the border closure extension. They don’t anticipate playing games until mid-to-late July at the earliest. The league’s Phase 2 plan involves players participating in small group workouts on a voluntary basis.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Because the NHL is considered a business, I daresay they’ll receive an exemption from the Canadian government.

EDMONTON JOURNAL: Alberta premier Jason Kenney believes Edmonton would be the safest place on the continent for the NHL to play. He points to the low number of COVID-19 cases in the city and the province, as well as the highest per-capita testing in North America. Kenney also touted the Oilers’ state-of-the-art arena and the local facilities to accommodate the players. “All of the services are right there to be safely integrated in a protected zone that would keep the players and staff insulated. So I think we have a very strong pitch to make.”

NBC SPORTS: California governor Gavin Newsom said pro sports could return in his state by the first week of June without fans.

STARTRIBUNE.COM: The Minnesota Wild are interested in St. Paul becoming a host city when the league returns to action.

THE TENNESSEAN: The city of Nashville would also like to become a neutral-site host for NHL games this summer.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Several factors will go into determining which cities the NHL selects as neutral-site hosts. Ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved will be the priority.


THE DENVER POST: Tampa Bay Lightning analyst Brian Engblom wonders what will happen if one of the players isn’t comfortable with returning to action and stays home.

“What if it’s a key guy? People are afraid and they have every right to be. If you have one player, and maybe he’s a real key player. What do you do? It’s a free country. That person is allowed to say no. These are unprecedented times. How can you make them do anything? What’s a team going to do? Are they going to fine them? You can’t, in my opinion. This is a person’s choice because of an unreal situation.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a fair point by Engblom. In all the reports about hammering out a return-to-play format, no one has raised what will happen if a player, especially a superstar, decides he doesn’t want to risk contracting COVID-19 and refuses to report. The players are under contract, but these are extraordinary times. If one star refuses to participate, others could follow his example, creating a potential marketing headache for the league and a contractual standoff between the players and their teams. 

TSN: The NHLPA’s 31 player representatives agreed to further defer a decision on their Apr. 15 paychecks until the end of May.

NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the league and the PA have discussed the possibility of extending the current collective bargaining agreement beyond 2021-22. The main issue could be a cap on escrow payments. Brooks said the players “are currently responsible for making up the 2019-20 carryover escrow next year. The players would obviously prefer to extend the payment over multiple seasons.” The anticipated escrow cap offer would be higher than 25 percent.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the current relationship between the league and the PA is the best he’s seen in his career. Much of that harmony involves the return-to-play committee, which includes Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, and special assistant Mathieu Schneider, as well as notable players such as Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and Mark Scheifele.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s why we’re hearing so much hopeful speculation suggesting a new era of NHL labor peace could emerge from this current situation. Nevertheless, the escrow cap issue could be the major sticking point. Resolving that will smooth a pathway toward a CBA extension.

THE SCORE: The NHL is unhappy over teams signing players to entry-level contracts with “to be determined” start dates. The league made a rule when this season was paused that such contracts couldn’t have a 2019-20 start date, but some clubs hoped to use “TBD” as a potential loophole. The league isn’t allowing contracts with undetermined start dates to be submitted to Central Registry.

OTTAWA SUN: NHL players in the Ottawa area will be allowed to skate at the privately-owned Minto Arena after receiving approval from the Ontario government. Strict conditions will be in place, such as only five players on the ice at a time and maintaining physical distancing in the building at all times.


NORTHJERSEY.COM: Goaltender Cory Schneider said he hasn’t given any thought to retirement and intends to complete his contract with the Devils. He split his time this season between the Devils and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton.

OTTAWA SUN: Senators winger Mikkel Boedker signed a two-year contract with Lugano of the Swiss league starting next season.

WGR550: The Buffalo Sabres are reportedly close to signing Jesper Olofsson, brother of Sabres winger Victor Olofsson.

NEWSOBSERVER.COM: The Carolina Hurricanes are close to extending their deal with PNC Arena to 2029.

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 1, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 1, 2020

The latest on the efforts to re-start the season, Steve Yzerman weighs in on staging the draft before the season, Georges Laraque hospitalized with COVID-19, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: League commissioner Gary Bettman said he’s in constant contact with NHL Players Association director Donald Fehr, praising the collaborative process between the two sides addressing the issues they’re facing during this pandemic. They’ve formed a Return to Play committee consisting of league executives and players.

NHL Commission Gary Bettman is pleased with the close cooperation between the league and the NHLPA in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo via NHL.com).

“Having the committee that’s been put together with the players is important so that we can get the feedback on the issues that are important to them and how to resolve them, and that we can be communicating how we’re focusing on the things we think that need to be done,” said Bettman. “It’s been extraordinarily collaborative, constructive, and cooperative, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the interaction that we’re having.”

Bettman also said there’s no firm timeline as to when the league will resume the schedule, stressing the importance of ensuring the health and safety of the players. He confirmed a return to action will depend upon guidance from government health officials at all levels.

TSN: While the NHL is targeting mid-to-late May for its’ Phase 2 (reopening training facilities for small group workouts), Darren Dreger reports it won’t be mandatory for players to attend.  It will be for training camp, which is tentatively slated to begin on June 1. He also said some suggest Phase 2 will not be initiated.

Dreger indicated there won’t be a resumption to the season unless the players have an allowance to visit their families. How to address that issue is in the discussion stage.

Pierre LeBrun reports talks for a new collective bargaining agreement were shelved when the pandemic happened, but the two sides have signaled an intent to resume those talks at some point. Given the financial impact of the pandemic, LeBrun believes it’s important to the team owners and the players to work out a long-term CBA extension.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league and the PA have to establish a better working relationship to navigate through these difficult times. Revenue will be affected in the short term, in turn affecting the salary cap. A potentially positive long-term outcome from this pandemic could see the two sides reach an agreement to a CBA extension without the usual rancor and work stoppages of the past. There was already an improvement in CBA negotiations between the two sides over the past couple of years. Perhaps labor peace will be the silver lining of this pandemic for NHL fans. 

Frank Seravalli examined the challenges of televising NHL games should the schedule resume in arenas without fans. It will certainly sound different, as viewers will be hearing things from the players (good and bad) that would be otherwise drowned out by crowd noise. The sounds of the game will also come to the fore.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: On the plus side, you’ll hear players and coaches calling out direction and advice during the action. The downside (for some) will be hearing so much profanity that it’ll overwhelm the networks’ censors. 

EDMONTON JOURNAL: Alberta premier Jason Kenney said he hasn’t yet received a proposal from the NHL for the city of Edmonton to be a divisional host should the season resume. Nevertheless, he isn’t ruling out the possibility. “I think I can conceive of a way that they could put together a plan that follows our health guidelines with appropriate protective equipment and with nobody in the stands,” said Kenney. “If they came to us with a plan for limited and specific use of those facilities we would give it consideration.”

MLIVE.COM: Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman is skeptical about the possibility of staging the 2020 NHL draft before the resumption of the season. “My thought is why would you do that? Why would you need to do that? There’s a lot of things that are affected. Obviously, the draft position hasn’t been established. We don’t know who’s in the playoffs, who’s out of the playoffs in some cases,” said Yzerman. “So there’s a lot of questions and ultimately, if (the draft) needs to be done prior to, we’ll figure it out but at this time my own opinion is I haven’t heard a good reason why we should do it prior to the end of the season, if we do conclude the season.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was reportedly a lot of pushback among NHL general managers against the notion of staging the draft before the season resumes. I think Yzerman is the first GM to publicly express his concerns.

ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski suggests the NHLPA has leverage over the NHL it didn’t have before the pandemic. The players must approve any plan to resume the season. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of players with competing ambitions. “You’re talking about some players that are 19-year-old single guys that have been gaming the last couple of weeks. And then you’re talking about some players in their mid- to late-30s with three kids, and they have to worry about schooling and things like that. You have guys traveling back from Europe, and they’re probably going to need a couple of weeks of quarantine after that. There are so many variables,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Brenden Dillon.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: In the short term, escrow could be the determining factor. The players could face losing perhaps up to half of their salaries next season to escrow clawbacks if they vote against resuming the season. Nevertheless, this could work to the players’ long-term advantage if they gain some concessions from ownership in the next CBA. 

LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL: Former NHL player Georges Laraque confirmed he’s been hospitalized with COVID-19. “I guess I’m not invincible, just got diagnosed with Covid, since I’m asthmatic, not the best news, will fight it off!”, he announced yesterday via social media. In a radio interview, he indicated he’d been feeling poorly for a week, including having difficulty breathing.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Laraque for a full and speedy recovery. 

THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets season-ticket holders continue to be charged for future seats despite widespread economic uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic. 

NBC SPORTS: The Vancouver Canucks are donating $500K for COVID-19 relief. 

STLTODAY.COM/SPORTSDAY: The St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars will begin furloughing some of their staff while others, including team executives, will be taking pay cuts.