The proposed Jan. 1 start of the 2020-21 season in jeopardy, four Blue Jackets test positive for COVID-19, plus updates on Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the lack of progress over the last five days to draft protocols could jeopardize the NHL’s proposed Jan. 1 start date for the 2020-21 season. Well-placed sources tell Brooks of continuing adamant, widespread resistance among the NHLPA membership to the league’s recent requests to renegotiate the terms of the recent CBA extension to increase the escrow and salary deferral rates.
The league made those requests citing liquidity issues. While the players’ share of hockey-related revenue cannot exceed 50 percent, Brooks said the adoption of annual escrow caps combined with uncoupling the salary cap from actual HRR has ended the assurance of a yearly 50-50 split.
Brooks notes the 10 percent salary deferral for this season was to be repaid without interest in three equal annual installments over the final three years of the extension. He wonders if the players would be amenable to adjusting the agreement if the league agrees to repay all deferred money with interest.
The stalled negotiations suggest a 48-game schedule beginning the third week in January appears more likely. The NHL returned from the 1994-95 lockout on Jan 20 and from the 2012-13 lockout on Jan. 19. Brooks reports the league remains focused on playing in home arenas with or without fans in attendance despite recent positive COVID-19 tests among two NHL teams.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL was facing a tight schedule to meet a suitable timetable for a Jan. 1 start well before the recent lull in negotiations with the PA.
They need a 14-day training camp period in the run-up to the start of the season while last season’s seven non-playoff clubs were promised an extra seven-to-10 days of camp. Many players remain scattered across North American and Europe with those returning to Canadian clubs needing to self-isolate for 14 days. The players could also be reluctant to take part in training camp during the Christmas holidays.
The league and the PA were hoping for a Jan. 1 start in order to stage a 60-game schedule. If they cannot hammer out an agreement by the end of this week, they’ll have to push that start date to late January or early February and consider adopting a shorter schedule.
TORONTO STAR: Kevin McGran believes the prospect of a new US television agreement next season brings the promise of the NHL playing this season. The current contract with NBC Sports expires at the end of 2020-21.
Playing this season means the league could enter into lucrative new deals with a diverse group of broadcasters and/or streamers starting in ’21-’22. That includes traditional TV networks like NBC, cable networks like ESPN and Fox, and streamers such as DAZN and Amazon Prime.
The effect of COVID-19 upon league revenues could result in a less fruitful bidding war than anticipated. However, McGran points out Major League Baseball just signed a seven-year extension with Turner Sports worth a 65 percent increase annually over its previous deal with the broadcaster.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As the saying goes, it’s all about the Benjamins. That’s one of the main reasons why the NHL and the NHLPA are keen to return to play as soon as possible. That’s why commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly believes canceling the season would damage the league’s long-term health.
SPORTSNET: The Columbus Blue Jackets announced “several players” tested positive for COVID-19. Those players immediately began to quarantine and the club closed its off-ice facilities at Nationwide Arena beginning Nov. 16. This news comes a day after the Vegas Golden Knights announced four players tested positive.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This will be an ongoing concern for the NHL’s efforts to stage a 2020-21 season. Teams are following health and safety protocols similar to those in use prior to the 2020 playoffs but it doesn’t make the players immune from the coronavirus.
Edmonton Oiler captain Connor McDavid is training with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews in Arizona (NHL Images).
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid joined Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews in Arizona earlier this month. The two superstars have skated together four days a week. They’ve been joined in recent weeks by several NHL players, including Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Players have been taking part in informal voluntary workouts and on-ice training throughout North America and Europe in preparation for whatever format the ’20-’21 schedule will be.
THE PROVINCE: Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning said his players are waiting to see when training camp begins. He said it doesn’t make sense to bring everyone to Vancouver right now to go through a two-week quarantine, only to have them return home for Christmas and then go through another quarantine when they return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Everything’s in a holding pattern right now for all NHL teams. Because of the health and safety protocols, they can’t bring their players back in anticipation of a December training camp when they don’t know if that’s even going to happen.
OTHER NOTABLE NHL HEADLINES
NHL.COM: Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel believes the club did an “awesome job” with its offseason moves. Those include adding left wing Taylor Hall and centers Eric Staal and Cody Eakin.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens center Phillip Danault said he’s had no contract talks with the club and expects to enter the final season of his current deal without an extension. He said he’ll see what happens, leaving it up to general manager Marc Bergevin.
Danault clarified that he never said he wanted to be the club’s full-time first-line center but the two-way center doesn’t want to be placed into just one role. Pat Hickey believes the Canadiens’ offseason additions of Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson means Danault will likely remain with linemates Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Danault’s future with the Canadiens will depend on the development of promising centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. If they outperform Danault, this season could be his last with the Habs.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Former NHL player Daniel Carcillo recently told HBO’s Real Sports that psychedelic drugs helped him cope with the aftereffects of brain trauma suffered during his playing career.
WINNIPEG SUN: Jets prospect Dylan Samberg was involved in a multi-vehicle accident in Minnesota that left him unhurt but sent four other people to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
TSN: The NHL is embroiled in a legal fight with several insurance companies refusing to pay most of the costs related to the league’s concussion lawsuit and the settlement reached with retirement players.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Former Blackhawks forward Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, passed away yesterday at age 86 from COVID-19. Sasakamoose played 11 games with the Blackhawks in 1953-54 and was a pioneer and role model for Indigenous and Native American players. Sasakamoose was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the Order of Canada in 2017.
AZCENTRAL.COM: The Arizona Coyotes mourning the passing of nine-year-old fan Leighton Accardo, who passed away yesterday following a long battle with cancer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Sasakamoose’s family, friends and former teammates, and to the Accardo family and the Coyotes’ organization.