Expect Creativity By NHL Clubs Trying To Shed Salary
The NHL and NHLPA formally approve a 56-game season, the Blues will reportedly name Ryan O’Reilly as team captain, and more in today’s morning coffee headlines
TSN: The NHL and NHL Players Association formally agreed yesterday to play a 56-game season commencing on Jan. 13, 2021.
The league’s aim is to return to a normal hockey calendar for the 2021-22 season.
Both sides intend to be flexible and adaptable to ensure compliance with local and national health and safety directives for their players and game-related personnel.
The league will be split into four divisions (see chart at left) for this season with no conferences. Training camp open for last season’s seven non-playoff teams on Dec. 31. The rest of the league begins camp on Jan. 3. There won’t be any exhibition games.
The playoffs will feature 16 teams in a best-of-seven, four-round format that will conclude no later than July 15. The top-four teams in each division will qualify, featuring intradivisional matchups in the first two rounds (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3). The two semifinal winners will face off in the Stanley Cup Final.
Frank Seravalli reports multiple provincial health authorities in Canada have not yet signed off on the league’s plan and protocol amid concerns over rising COVID-19 rates in several provinces. Discussions between the league and the provinces are expected to continue this week. If no agreement is reached, the seven Canadian teams could begin the season in a hub city such as Edmonton or in US cities.
Several US teams, such as the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, are expected to begin the season with a limited number of fans in their arenas.
The San Jose Sharks announced they will train and open the season in Arizona due to the ban on mass gatherings in Santa Clara County, California.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL is making this change to the divisions and playoff format for this season only. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see how fans respond to these changes. If the reaction is positive, perhaps the league would consider adopting them going forward.
The critical dates are as follows:
Dec: 31: Training camp opens for last season’s seven non-playoff teams,
Jan.3: Training camps open for the remaining 24 teams,
April 12: NHL trade deadline,
May 8: End of the regular season,
May 11: Stanley Cup playoffs begin,
July 15: Last possible day to award the Stanley Cup,
July 21: Seattle Kraken expansion draft,
July 23-24: NHL Draft (location to be determined),
July 28: Free agency begins,
October: 2021-22 regular season begins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some of those regular-season and playoff dates could change depending on the course of the pandemic. The league intends to leave some wiggle room in the schedule for games postponed by the pandemic. The NHL Draft could be staged in Montreal as that’s where this year’s draft was supposed to be held.
SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reports the Canadian teams will face off against each other 10 times in the upcoming season.
Health authorities in British Columbia have raised the most concerns over the NHL’s plan, while Ontario and Quebec have yet to formally commit. Alberta and Manitoba are believed most comfortable with the plan while Quebec Premier Francois Legault expressed his happiness – “Bonne nouvelle! (Good news!) – following yesterday’s announcement by the league.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Vancouver Canucks seem most likely to be starting this season playing in another city. Ontario is going into a month-long province-wide lockdown on Christmas eve, which could force the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs into a hub city in Edmonton. It remains to be seen what Quebec will do. The teams in those provinces could be allowed to return to their arenas if restrictions ease over the course of the season. We’ll probably learn more before the end of this week.
Johnston’s colleague Elliotte Friedman reports training camp will consist of 36 players and an unlimited number of goaltenders. He also indicates no-movement clauses are extended through July. That will allow players who have one to use it if they wish during the expansion draft. The entry-level slide for rookies drops this season from 10 games to seven.
PUCKPEDIA: examines some interesting aspects of the transition rules for the coming season and the effects upon the salary cap for 2020-21.
THE MERCURY NEWS: San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson confirmed some of the team’s players skating in Europe in recent months tested positive for COVID-19. However, none who trained in San Jose tested positive. They’re not aware of any player currently prevented by the coronavirus from traveling to North America.
THE ATHLETIC: Jeremy Rutherford cites sources claiming Ryan O’Reilly will be named the new captain of the St. Louis Blues. He will replace Alex Pietrangelo, who signed with the Vegas Golden Knights in October.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: O’Reilly is a perfect choice for team captain. As Rutherford points out, he’s become a leader and a core player since joining the Blues in 2018. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Blues won the 2019 Stanley Cup and the Selke Trophy in 2019.
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) December 20, 2020
The latest on the Leafs, Jets, and Devils in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COULD THE MAPLE LEAFS PURSUE MORE LTIR CONTRACTS?
TSN: Frank Seravalli expects the Toronto Maple Leafs to acquire more players on long-term injury reserve. Under the NHL CBA, a player under a contract whose career is cut short by injury but doesn’t retire can be placed on LTIR. That allows a team sitting at the cap maximum to exceed it by an amount equal to the player’s annual average value.
The Leafs previously acquired the contracts of all-but-retired players like Nathan Horton and David Clarkson to give themselves more salary-cap wiggle room. With both players coming off the books at the end of this season, Seravalli believes Leafs management will be on the hunt for more LTIR contracts.
His suggested targets include Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler, Ottawa’s Marian Gaborik, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, Arizona’s Marian Hossa, and Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. Others could include Vancouver’s Micheal Ferland and Chicago’s Andrew Shaw.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman doubts the Leafs are eager to go the LTIR route again. “They knew they were starting last year without Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman. It wasn’t an easy dance for them — or Vegas — last season.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I anticipate this loophole could be closed in the next collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, there’s nothing within the CBA preventing the Leafs (or anyone else) from doing this again. Several LTIR contracts (including those of Gaborik and Hossa) were traded in recent years to cap-strapped clubs seeking some payroll flexibility. Bear in mind it remains to be seen if Kesler, Seabrook, Ferland, and Shaw become permanent LTIR players. They haven’t ruled out returning to play next season.
Friedman raises a good point about the difficulty the Leafs faced to pull this off this season. It could become more complicated if their roster starts next season healthier than they were at the start of 2019-20.
BACKUP GOALIE OPTIONS FOR THE JETS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Ken Wiebe examined some backup goaltending targets for the Winnipeg Jets if they don’t re-sign pending free agent Laurent Brossoit. Trade targets could include St. Louis’ Jake Allen and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, while the UFA market includes the New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss and San Jose’s Aaron Dell. New Jersey’s Cory Schneider could be a long-shot option if the Devils buy out the final two years of his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues could move Allen in a cost-cutting deal to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo, but they won’t just give him away. Their asking price could be a good, young, affordable NHLer.
Dubnyk has a modified no-trade clause containing 19 preferred trade destinations. There’s no certainty the Jets would be on it.
In addition to Greiss and Dell, Cam Talbot and Anton Khudobin are also potentially available. All but Dell, however, could cost over $3 million annually each.
LATEST DEVILS SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Corey Masisak was asked if the New Jersey Devils might go after a big-name free agent like St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo. While acknowledging the possibility, he considers the odds slim, suggesting it might not make sense to pay Pietrangelo huge money for a couple of seasons before the Devils are ready to become playoff contenders. He advocates pursuing a younger top-pairing blueliner in a trade.
Asked if the Devils could shop one of their three first-round picks in this year’s draft, Masisak thinks it’s too early to tell. “I don’t think they would consider trading the Arizona pick or the Vancouver pick until we know if it’s being transferred in 2020 or is an unprotected 2021 choice,” he said. “The value of those picks changes depending on that information.”