Sabres fire GM Jason Botterill, league commissioner Gary Bettman talks about the return-to-play plan, plus the latest on Patrick Kane, David Pastrnak, Braden Holtby, Josh Anderson, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
The Buffalo Sabres have relieved Jason Botterill of his duties as general manager. They’ve named Senior VP of Business Administration Kevyn Adams as Botterill’s replacement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This news broke earlier this morning. I hope to have more about this in tomorrow’s update. It was only three weeks ago that Botterill received the backing of Sabres ownership for another season. It’ll be interesting to find out what brought about this sudden change of heart, as well as what it could mean for the coaching and scouting staffs.
LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan reports NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes the league’s return-to-play plan will maintain the integrity of the playoffs without being too gimmicky.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Photo via NHL.com).
“I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we’re going to run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players,” said Bettman.
The NHL intends to return later this summer with a 24-team tournament involving a round-robin for the top eight teams and a qualifying round for the other 16.
Bettman indicated the league has worked closely with the NHL Players’ Association since games were paused in mid-March. The two sides continue to negotiate key details, including playing under a quarantine bubble and the location of the two host cities for the tournament.
The commissioner also said the league intends to test every player and member of each team’s 50-person traveling party daily for COVID-19. A player testing positive will be isolated and contact tracing will monitor everyone in close proximity of that player. Bettman said the league has been told an isolated case or two won’t affect their plans to go forward.
Bettman also said the league is in discussions with the Canadian government regarding easing restrictions for the country’s 14-day quarantine period for visitors.
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports Bettman admitted 56 percent of the league’s players remain outside of their respective NHL cities, with 17 percent of them still in Europe. “So we’ve got a lot of people to move around and we have to get people back from outside of North America.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The round-robin and qualifying rounds are a bit gimmicky, but necessary given this unusual situation. Once the playoffs begin, it’s the usual four-round, best-of-seven tournament.
The discussions with the Canadian government will affect the location of one of the two host cities. It’s believed the league wants one in Canada, but that won’t be possible if the government maintains its strict border protocols. That will also affect training camps for the six Canadian teams (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal) participating in the tournament. There’s already talk that some of them could hold training camps in the United States.
Phase 3 of the return-to-play plan involves training camps opening on July 10. The league has a limited time to get their players back to their respective NHL cities.
SPORTSNET: Hockey analyst and former NHLer Kevin Bieksa said several players he’s spoken to remain skeptical of the return-to-play plan. He said they don’t have their equipment and still have skated.
Bieksa added there remains several issues to be sorted out. “Not only with the safety measures and protocol and everything but I don’t even know if it’s been discussed with the (NHLPA) and the league how they’re going to divide HRR (hockey-related revenue).”
Some critics have dismissed the proposed tournament as the NHL putting the players at risk solely for the sake of profit. What the league is doing is attempting to recoup roughly half of its $1.1 billion in lost revenue from pausing the schedule. This depends, however, on the willing participation of the players.
With the salary cap tied to hockey-related revenue, the majority of players (based on the 29-2 vote by NHLPA player reps approving the return-to-play plan) are agreeable to this tournament. They aren’t being forced into this. If a majority aren’t confident their health and safety can be assured, they have the power to shut this down at any time.
AWFUL ANNOUNCING: cites a report in Sports Business Journal claiming the NHL is halting all negotiations for its next television contract until the end of 2020.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE SCORE: Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane doesn’t believe whoever wins the 2020 Stanley Cup should have an asterisk beside their name.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are no asterisks beside the NHL teams that won the Stanley Cup during the Second World War when some of the league’s best players were serving overseas. There’s no asterisk beside the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils or 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Cup during lockout-shortened seasons. There shouldn’t be, and won’t be, an asterisk beside the potential 2020 Cup champion.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins winger David Pastrnak is more upset about missing the 100-point plateau than the 50-goal mark. With 48 goals and 95 points in 70 games, Pastrnak was on pace for his first 50-goal, 100-point campaign when the schedule was paused.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said the starting goaltender role is Braden Holtby’s to lose in the playoff tournament. “Braden Holtby’s body of work in playoff games speaks for itself and how he definitely helped our team to win our first-ever Stanley Cup and was a huge, huge part of that,” Reirden said.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Aaron Portzline reports Columbus Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson will remain sidelined by shoulder surgery until after September.
LAS VEGAS SUN: The Vegas Golden Knights re-signed Ryan Reaves to a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension. The 33-year-old winger is completing a two-year, $5.5-million deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some observers suggest Reaves’ accepting less money to re-sign with the Golden Knights could be a harbinger of what many of this year’s unrestricted free agents could face when the season is over. However, he likely would’ve had to accept a similar deal from the Golden Knights even without the possibility of a flat salary cap for next season. Before re-signing Reaves, the Golden Knights had over $73 million invested in 15 players for 2020-21.
SPORTSDAY: Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak signed a three-year contract with Czech club HC Vitkovice. He’s still under contract with the Stars for this season but told a Czech paper he might not return if the NHL stages its playoff tournament. Stars general manager Jim Nill said the team can’t make a player return against their wishes. “If anyone wants to stay home, that is their decision. His contract expires at the end of this season, so no issues there.”
SPORTSNET: The American Hockey League has formed a return-to-play task force to prepare for its 2020-21 season.