NHL Wise To Flip Conferences In Playoff Hub Cities
An update on Vladimir Tarasenko, the latest return-to-play news, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE SCORE: St. Louis Blues scoring star Vladimir Tarasenko is reportedly ready to return to action when the 24-team playoff tournament begins later this summer. In an interview with The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford, Blues head coach Craig Berube complimented the 28-year-old winger for his rehab efforts and remaining in shape as he recovered from early-season shoulder surgery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tarasenko is one of the Blues’ corp players and a key reason they won the Stanley Cup last season. Having their top sniper healthy in time for the proposed playoff tournament provides a welcome boost to the Blues’ offense as they attempt to defend their championship.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the Eastern Conference teams participating in the playoff tournament will play in Las Vegas, which is expected to be named one of the two host cities.
The top-four Eastern clubs (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia) have a bye from the qualifying round and will play a round-robin against each other to determine their final seeding. The qualifying round matchups see the New York Rangers face Carolina, New York Islanders take on Florida, Pittsburg against Montreal, and Toronto versus Columbus.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The rationale here is to remove any possibility of home-ice advantage. In other words, the Vegas Golden Knights won’t be able to benefit from playing in their home arena during the tournament.
Brooks also reports Games 1 and 2 and Games 3 and 4 of the qualifying round will be played back-to-back with one day off in between. That’s similar to the playoff scheduling format for the first two rounds in 1980-1984 and for the first round throughout the 1980s.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For hockey fans with no memory of what the 1980s playoff schedule was like, here’s your chance to see if it was as good as older fans claim it was.
It has yet to be determined if non-NHL players signed to NHL contracts for next season will be allowed to participate in the tournament.
Brooks also reports the 2020-21 season could start in December or January to play as much of the schedule as possible with fans in the stands. It could be conducted with a conference-only format.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports the league is strongly encouraging players in need of extending their work visas through the post-season to return to Canada or the United States (depending on which of the two countries they play in) by June 21. The league’s usual annual calendar expires on June 30.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Friedman writes that it could generate some dissatisfaction among the players because it’s not mandatory to report to their NHL cities under the current phase of the return-to-play plan. Nevertheless, this will be necessary if the players on work visas intend to be ready when training camp opens on July 10.
THE SCORE: Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot told The Athletic she’s hopeful her city will be selected as one of the two hosts for the playoff tournament. She feels Chicago is well-situated to accommodate 12 NHL teams, pointing out the ongoing decline in COVID-19 cases within the state. The league is expected to formally announce the host cities on June 22
ARIZONA SPORTS: A Coyotes staff member tested positive for COVID-19. He is asymptomatic and is self-isolating at home while those who were in close contact with him have been notified. He’s the only member of the team who tested positive during the club’s Phase 2 testing protocol.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: He’s also the second NHL person this past week to test positive for the coronavirus. This is yet another indication of the difficulty the league faces to ensure the health and safety of its players and staff to complete this season. While Las Vegas is reportedly one of the two host cities, these tests could have an effect upon the decision for the second city.
The @CanadiensMTL Phase 2 will start officially Monday at the practice facility. So far, 4 players have made a request to access the rink: Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin, Charles Hudon and Michael McNiven. Tests on Monday and ice will be available on Tuesday.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) June 13, 2020
A Bruins player tests positive for COVID-19, Las Vegas will reportedly be confirmed as a hub city for the playoff tournament, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: In a statement yesterday, the Boston Bruins announced one of their players had tested positive for COVID-19 prior to using the club’s practice facilities as part of Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. The player subsequently underwent two more tests, which came back negative. The player remains asymptomatic and all other Bruins players have returned negative tests.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty points out this serves as a reminder of the challenges facing the league in its quest to complete this season. The Bruins also indicated they’ll continue adhering to CDC guidelines and the league’s Phase 2 protocols. I suspect the player will be under self-quarantine for the next two weeks.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Las Vegas is expected to be among the two hub cities to host the 24-team playoff tournament when the NHL announces its selections on June 22. MGM Resorts International is reportedly keeping its Las Vegas hotels available for the league.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston expects that announcement could come before June 22. While some fans will wonder why the NHL favors a Sun Belt location like Vegas, that city has a suitable arena, training facilities, accommodation, and transportation within a closely-contained area that meets the league’s requirements for a host city.
Johnston also reports the league prefers placing the other hub city in Canada, with Toronto considered the front-runner. That will depend, however, on whether the Canadian government relaxes its strict border protocols to allow NHL clubs to travel to that hub city.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Tampa Bay received some buzz as a potential destination when there was talk of four NHL host cities. Once the league opted for two, however, Tampa slid down the list. The city and Amalie Arena lack the space the league needs to bring 12 teams together.
CALGARY SUN: Mark Giordano, Michael Stone, Dillon Dube, Matthew Phillips, and Mark Jankowski were the first Flames to hit the ice in Calgary for small-group training.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Former Capitals forward Brendan Leipsic is reportedly working on a two-year contract with KHL club CSKA Moscow. The Capitals terminated the remainder of Leipsic’s one-year contract last month after his offensive remarks on social media about several current and former teammates were made public.
TSN: The Ottawa Sun recently issued a correction and an apology for errors in two recent columns regarding the Ottawa Senators Foundation’s decision to cut ties with the club’s ownership.
A tradition in an untraditional world – @HockeyHallFame will announce the 2020 class on Wednesday, June 24th at 4:30 PM LIVE on TSN, https://t.co/KTYMAArjx3 and @NHLNetwork . The meetings will be held virtually. @TSNHockey, @TSN_PR
— Kelly Masse (@KellyHockeyHall) June 12, 2020
The latest return-to-play news, Evander Kane calls for white athletes to speak out against police brutality, and updates on Dylan Larkin, Cam Talbot & more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): An interview by Joe Smith and Sean Shapiro with over two dozen NHL players from around the world reveals most don’t have a plan yet to return to their respective clubs during the league Phase 2 of its return-to-play format.
With nearly 15 percent of NHL players outside the United States during the pandemic, most have to work through visa issues, flight plans, and the quarantine program in their respective teams’ cities.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the “nuts and bolts of actual travel” has been left to the team and its players. Player agent Dan Milstein said the league is working with the U.S. Government on extending the players’ visas beyond their June 30 expiration to the end of the playoff tournament. The league reached out to the teams in March regarding player and coach work visa and green card status.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Phase 2 small-group workouts at team facilities are voluntary. Most players living outside the US could prefer training at available facilities in their hometowns until their travel issues are sorted out. Phase 3, which involves a three-week training-camp period for the 24 teams participating in the tournament, is expected to begin sometime in July.
Jesse Granger reports sources are saying MGM Resorts International submitted a detailed proposal to the NHL highlighting its ability to host the postseason in Las Vegas.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vegas is considered the front-runner to become one of the two host cities for the playoff tournament. It has the training, accommodation, transportation, and entertainment facilities to host the players and perhaps even their families during the tournament period. The local desert climate, however, could be an issue. Maintaining the ice in the arenas will be a challenge, especially in the early going when three games per day could be played.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane called upon prominent white athletes to speak out against police brutality against African-Americans.
“It’s time for guys like (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback) Tom Brady and (Pittsburgh Penguins center) Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right, and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that’s the only way we’re gonna actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism.”
Kane praised his teammates for being supportive of his views. Sharks owner Hasso Plattner shared his support in a statement on Friday. Kane believes hockey’s culture, which frowns upon outspokenness, prevents his fellow players from speaking their minds and standing up for what’s right.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some athletes by nature aren’t comfortable with taking a public stance on social issues. In recent years, the NHL launched its “Hockey Is For Everyone” campaign “to provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity or expression, disability, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.” However, that’s not the same as taking a public stance regarding those issues. It’ll be interesting to see how many NHL stars heed Kane’s call.
DETROIT FREE PRESS: Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman intends to name a captain for his team. Dylan Larkin is considered the prime candidate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As he should be. He’s been the de facto captain for the past two seasons.
SPORTSNET: The University of Alabama-Huntsville’s hockey program was saved after supporters raised over $535K, aided in part by Calgary Flames goalie (and UAH alumni) Cam Talbot.
VANCOUVER SUN: The Vancouver Canucks have parted ways with scouting director Judd Brackett over a contract dispute. Brackett reportedly sought more autonomy over the scouting department. During his tenure from August 2015 to his departure, the Canucks drafted foundation players Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
ARIZONA SPORTS: If play resumes this season, the Coyotes intend to return in their vintage Kachina jerseys.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: The Carolina Hurricanes extended their lease at PNC Arena to July 2029.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That should silence those occasional (and baseless) rumors suggesting the Hurricanes could be relocated to a “real hockey market”.
THE TENNESSEAN: Renovations to Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators, have been delayed.
For the second straight season and fifth time in League history, each of the top-four point producers were born in different countries (also 2018-19, 2005-06, 1998-99 and 1997-98).#NHLStats 2019-20 Regular Season Recap: https://t.co/HTiRfwYE9n pic.twitter.com/NDjncbeNeB
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 29, 2020
Result of the NHLPA executive board vote on proposed return-to-play format is expected today, a closer look at what the proposed format could look like, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHLPA EXECUTIVE VOTES ON PROPOSED RETURN-TO-PLAY FORMAT
SPORTSNET: The National Hockey League Players’ Association executive board voted Thursday night the NHL’s proposed 24-team return-to-play tournament. The board is comprised of the 31 NHLPA player representatives. The result of the vote is expected by Friday evening.
The top-four teams in each conference qualify for the 16-team playoffs, receiving a bye from the 16-team, best-of-five play-in series. They will, however, play a three-game round-robin against each other to determine their final seedings.
“In the Eastern Conference, the opening round will play out like this:
• 5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays four seed)
• 6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers (winner plays three seed)
• 7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays two seed)
• 8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays one seed)
And the Western Conference opening round will play out like this:
• 5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago (winner plays four seed)
• 6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona (winner plays three seed)
• 7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota (winner plays two seed)
• 8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg (winner plays one seed)”
“Once the play-in tournament has concluded, the playoffs will be “bracketed” — similar to what is done in the NCAA tournament — meaning any of the top-four teams in the East or West could actually end up facing the lowest remaining seed following the play-in round. For example, the No. 4 seed could face No. 12 Montreal (in the event the Canadiens pulled off an upset over No. 5 Pittsburgh) while the No. 1 seed would be left with the winner of No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus.”
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports the 24 clubs will be determined by points percentage. “The top four in the East are Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia; in the West, it’s St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas.”
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the “NHLPA conference call tonight was spirited if not raucous. While exec committee voting won’t be finalized until Friday, some believe Don Fehr may already have or will get the mandate to accept NHL RTP plan but not overwhelmingly so.”
“Which is to suggest that even if there are enough votes to pass, it may still be a tough call. Emotional issue, as one might expect. We should have more clarity in the next 24 hours.”
Frank Seravalli reports the when, where, and how for the return-to-play plan and the host cities hasn’t been determined yet. NHL general managers have privately expressed frustration with bracketing the playoffs, with some suggesting the rounds should be reseeded. The top-tier clubs are complaining about clubs like Montreal and Chicago being allowed to reach the playoffs.
Developing a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan and the logistics of staging these games in two or four host cities still has to be sorted out. The NHL and NHLPA remain hopeful of implementing Phase 2 of their return-to-play program, which would see players engage in small-group training at their respective NHL facilities, after June 1.
Darren Dreger reports the NHL is leaning toward two hub cities. The province of Alberta is putting forth a major push for Edmonton to be one of those cities. Las Vegas is thought to be the front-runner, though there’s concern over the heat there in July and August whereas the average summer temperatures in Edmonton are more comfortable.
McKenzie said several NHL GMs feel a 24-team play-in format is a made-for-TV event with Chicago and the New York Rangers being involved. There are also questions over how the outcome of this tournament could affect the draft lottery.
NBC SPORTS: Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal raised concerns about the players being possibly isolated from their families for weeks under the proposed format. Carlson felt a 24-team tournament sounded like a lot, while Staal spoke of the many hurdles the league faces in pulling this off. Nevertheless, both players understand the challenges and seem willing to work with the league.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole is fully supportive of whatever decision is reached to return to action. “To be honest with you, I like to keep it simple: Whatever gets us back and playing, I’m 100 percent for. Whether that’s 16 teams, 24 teams — 30 teams, 31 teams — whatever gets us back and playing I’m 100 percent on board with,” Cole said.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin dismisses concerns over how a 24-team tournament might hurt the integrity of the NHL playoffs. He cites the NHL’s long history of wild, sometimes unfair formats.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This proposed format won’t please everyone and the NHLPA executive board could come back with some recommendations to adjust it. A number of players will have legitimate concerns about ensuring their health and safety and the long separations from their families.
Nevertheless, I anticipate the PA reps will vote to approve it, with the league board of governors giving their blessing soon afterward. The league and the PA will then shift their focus toward ironing out timelines, approving hub cities, and addressing the daunting logistics in staging this tournament.
I understand the concerns regarding the fairness of the proposed tournament and the integrity of the playoffs. But if the league can pull this off, those concerns will be forgotten. Even those hockey fans taking to social media proclaiming they’ll never watch it will probably find themselves drawn toward it, especially if it involves their favorite team.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE ATHLETIC: Michael Russo reports an NHL source indicates the league’s intention is “to agree on a slide with the NHL Players’ Association, which would uniformly extend all contracts through the end of the 2019-20 season.” That would also apply to minor-league players on two-way contracts. The league also hopes to do the same for coaches and other team employees on expiring contracts, but “(The) dynamic is different without collective representation.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, player contracts that would’ve expired on June 30 will be extended to the end of the proposed return-to-play format. That could be sometime in September.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman speculates we probably won’t see NHL training camps open before July.
WINNIPEG SUN: Winnipeg’s pro sports teams can reopen their training facilities under strict physical distancing guidelines.
PUCKPEDIA: Part three of their NHL player agents’ poll examines the best way to grow league revenue, whether there will be a lockout in 2022, and more.
Some possible regional neutral-site locations to reopen the schedule, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Quick weigh in on a possible resumption, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Kevin Paul Dupont reports a league source confirms Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL’s board of governors, is interested in having TD Garden become one of the four regional neutral-site locations if the season resumes in July.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: David Schoen reports Las Vegas could be a fit as one of those neutral-site locations. Nevada isn’t a COVID-19 hotspot compared to other NHL cities like New York or the San Francisco Bay area, plus the city has suitable facilities to host and accommodate NHL players. However, it could lack sufficient rinks for training camps.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Sean Shapiro believes Dallas will be high on the list of possible neutral-site locations. The area has suitable accommodations, training facilities, and a major international airport. Climate, however, could make it difficult to sustain acceptable ice conditions.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: The league could consider Raleigh, North Carolina as a neutral-site city, but Luke Decock believes a lack of practice facilities would be a major obstacle.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Columbus, Edmonton, Minnesota, and Toronto could be among the leading neutral-site candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Most of the aforementioned cities have low COVID-19 numbers and less stringent social-distancing restrictions. Boston, however, is not among them. Jacobs is a very powerful league owner, but I doubt he’ll have enough influence to overcome the local health curtailments.
Meanwhile, Edmonton’s chief medical officer recently announced a recommendation to ban events of 15 or more people until the end of the summer. If approved, kiss that city goodbye as a neutral-site location.
TSN: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated a single positive or multiple positive tests involving players or personnel wouldn’t put an immediate halt to on-ice activity. “Everything depends on the facts and the entire set of circumstances,” said Daly.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With all due respect to Daly, local health officials will make that decision, not the league. If they feel one or multiple positive tests among NHL players or staff creates a risk of spreading the coronavirus to the local population, that city will shut down games in their location. If that happens, the league’s plan to resume the schedule could be derailed.
Former NHL player John Scott took to Twitter yesterday claiming NHL training camps will begin on June 1. He anticipates European players will be returning to their NHL clubs soon. However, SPORTSNET’s Eric Engels recently reported Montreal Canadiens winger and NHLPA alternate player rep Brendan Gallagher said on Wednesday that a resumption of the schedule in July has not yet been put before the PA membership for approval.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick believes netminders will need time to get back into form if the league resumes this summer. He recalled his own long recovery from a groin injury just one game into the 2016-17 season.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington teamed up with local businessman David Corbett delivered 2,000 N95 masks to Mercy’s Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield.
SPORTSNET: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment is using Scotiabank Arena as a giant kitchen to prepare 10,000 meals a day for Toronto’s front-line health-care workers, their families, and the city’s community agencies and shelters.