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 19, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 19, 2020

NHL looking at 8-9 locations as potential neutral-site hubs, plus the latest on Mikko Lehtonen and Guy Lafleur in today’s morning coffee headlines,

NHL.COM: Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL is looking at “probably eight or nine different places” that can accommodate “a dozen or so teams in one location” as it continues to examine options to re-open the season. He also indicated there’s no fixed timetable yet for returning to action.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Photo via NHL.com).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The latter comment may have been aimed at the players. Cory Schneider, the New Jersey Devils’ NHLPA rep, said the players are wondering if there’s a drop-dead deadline for returning to play. The longer it takes to restart the season, the further the start of next season gets pushed ahead. 

“We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we’re in a position to execute any or all of those options. There is still a great deal of uncertainty,” said Bettman. He also indicated border and quarantine issues must also be resolved before the players return.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver have been mentioned as possible hosts. Having one of those hub locations in Canada would be more affordable for the league because of the lower value of the Canadian dollar. However, that depends upon whether there will be quarantine exemptions for NHL players. Anyone currently traveling to Canada must undergo a 14-day quarantine period. 

Bettman stressed the need to ensure an abundance of testing for all involved in NHL games.”(We) certainly can’t be jumping the line in front of medical needs.” Good game conditions must also be in place for the players. Everything the league does will be determined by medical and government authorities.

The commissioner said players and fans want the NHL to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup, even if it means playing through the summer and delaying the start of next season. The league remains committed to staging a full 82-games schedule for 2020-21.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Assuming the league returns in early-July with a 24-team playoff format, the Stanley Cup could be awarded by mid-September. The 2020 NHL Draft would be staged soon afterward (provided it isn’t held in June) with the freeze on player trades lifted, followed by the start of the 2020 free-agent period. Training camp could open in November and the regular season begin in early-December. 

THE HOCKEY NEWS’ Ken Campbell took to Twitter yesterday reporting almost nothing of substance came out of yesterday’s NHL Board of Governors’ meeting. “The league is still considering a host of options and will not commit to any one of them until absolutely necessary. Those close to the situation maintain the goalposts are still constantly moving.”

SPORTSNET: Newly-signed Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mikko Lehtonen was named the KHL’s top rearguard for 2019-20. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs could have a blueline star on their hands if Lehtonen adapts well to the NHL game. 

TVA SPORTS: Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur is healthy enough to renew his helicopter pilot’s license after undergoing open-heart surgery and cancer surgery since last fall.  “They have to send all the doctors’ papers to Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration because I also had a US license. They will give me permission to take my medical exam, which I need to do to get my license. I spoke to my doctor and he said it was okay,” said Lafleur.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Glad to hear Lafleur has fully recovered and ready to return to the skies. 

The NHL Buyout Barometer – Metropolitan Division (Part I)

The NHL Buyout Barometer – Metropolitan Division (Part I)


NHL Free Agents & Trade Candidates – New Jersey Devils

NHL Free Agents & Trade Candidates – New Jersey Devils


NHL Rumor Mill – March 21, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – March 21, 2020

The NHL schedule remains paused, but the off-season trade and free agent rumor mill grind on. Check out the recent speculation on the Devils, Sabres, and Golden Knights in the NHL rumor mill.


NJ.COM: The fate of Cory Schneider was among Abbey Mastracco’s five questions facing the New Jersey Devils while the season is paused. Goaltending was the Devils’ Achilles heel over the past two seasons, in part because of the 34-year-old Schneider’s struggles between the pipes. They need a reliable backup for Mackenzie Blackwood. Buying out Schneider is an option, but promising Gilles Senn isn’t expected to be NHL-ready next season.

Cory Schneider faces an uncertain future with the New Jersey Devils (Photo via NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mastracco observed buying out Schneider isn’t ideal, but if there’s a management change, a new GM will want to make his own decisions about the future of the club. If Schneider doesn’t fit into their plans, a buyout of the remaining two years of his contract (worth $6 million annually) could be in the cards.

Some observers speculate the projected revenue losses brought about by this pandemic could prompt the league and the NHLPA to introduce amnesty contract buyouts for next season. If they do, I think it’s a safe bet the Devils will go that route to shed Schneider’s contract. They could use part of the savings to sign a reliable backup for Blackwood.


THE BUFFALO NEWS: In a recent mailbag segment, Lance Lysowski was asked how the Buffalo Sabres will address their backup goaltending situation. Carter Hutton‘s struggles make it difficult to envision him on the roster next season. General manager Jason Botterill isn’t a fan of contract buyouts and it’s difficult to say what next season’s salary cap will look like. If they can find someone to take Hutton off their hands, Lysowski expects they’ll try to find a cheap backup option.

Lysowski was also asked about the Sabres’ options to fill their second-line center position. He doubts they’ll go the free-agent route, suggesting instead using an asset like defenseman Brandon Montour to acquire a center via the trade market.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hutton has one season left on his contract with an annual average value of $2.75 million. If the league and the NHLPA agree to allow amnesty contract buyouts for next season, Botterill could use that option to shed Hutton’s contract. For now, of course, that tactic is merely speculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sabres GM shops a defenseman like Montour or Rasmus Ristolainen to bring in a second-line center.


THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Jesse Granger was asked about the Vegas Golden Knights’ backup goalie situation if Robin Lehner isn’t re-signed. While there are plenty of options in this summer’s UFA market, Granger feels the Golden Knights could wait until next season’s trade deadline to address that need. The Seattle expansion draft will be held next summer, and he thinks a rival club could try to trade a goalie to Vegas rather than lose him for nothing to Seattle.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That sounds good in theory, assuming aging starter Marc-Andre Fleury remains healthy and sharp throughout next season and they can find a good, short-term option as his backup until the trade deadline. However, the long grind of a regular season can take its toll, which could force them into the market for help. They would risk not dealing from a position of strength then.

NHL Rumor Mill – March 7, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – March 7, 2020

Does Cory Schneider still have a future with the Devils? Could Anthony Mantha’s contract talk with the Red Wings become complicated? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.


NORTHJERSEY.COM: Abbey Mastracco wonders what the future holds for Cory Schneider. The 33-year-old veteran goaltender spent part of this season in the minors, but he seems to have regained his form since being recalled on Feb. 20. Mastracco believes whoever takes over as the Devils’ full-time general manager during the off-season could face a big decision regarding Schneider. He has two years remaining on his contract worth $6 million annually, which could prove difficult to move.

Could the New Jersey Devils part ways with Cory Schneider? (Photo via NHL Images)

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Injuries have adversely affected Schneider’s play in recent years, resulting in the type of inconsistency that sent him to the minors this season to sort out. He’s played well since his latest recall, but Mastracco points out he also finished well last season only to struggle again in the fall. With Mackenzie Blackwood looking more comfortable in the starter’s job, interim GM Tom Fitzgerald or his replacement could try to trade Schneider or buy out the final two years of his contract.

Schneider has a full no-trade clause so he’ll have to sign off on any attempt to move him. While his $6 million annual salary is difficult to move, the Devils could offer to pick up part of it. A budget-conscious club looking to reach next season’s salary-cap minimum ($65 million?) could have some interest if the Devils include a draft pick or prospect.

With the Devils investing over $55 million in 13 players for 2020-21, Schneider’s cap hit shouldn’t hamper their efforts to re-sign key players and add others during the off-season. The next GM, be it Tom Fitzgerald or someone else, could decide it best to hang onto Schneider and see how things play out.


THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan reports Anthony Mantha expected his contract negotiations with the Red Wings this summer could get complicated. The 25-year-old winger will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. While Mantha’s scoring abilities are obvious, he’s been hampered by frequent injuries, missing 28 games this season to a knee injury and a punctured lung.

Mantha is in line for a significant raise over his current $3.3-million annual average value. However, his injury history could affect what type of deal he gets. Mantha, meanwhile, insists he wants to be in Detroit for the long term.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mantha’s situation could be worth watching over the summer. If things get complicated, it could spark some trade speculation.