Prior to the start of the NHL Entry Draft, commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the NHL is looking to start next season on Jan. 1. In the release Bettman reiterated his desire to play a full 82-game schedule plus playoffs with fans in the stands. But he did admit that “there are a lot of things that have to transpire, many of which if not most of which are beyond our control before we can finalize our plans.”
The start date for NHL training camps has yet to be determined and will be announced at a later date.
The NHL had previously targeted December 1 for a potential start date, but did say that date could be pushed back. The league has previously announced its off-season training protocol.
Keegan Kolesar Signs 2-Year Deal with VGK
The Vegas Golden Knights have extended forward Keegan Kolesar on a two-year pact with an AAV of $725k.
While 2020 hasn’t been great to the world, Kolesar did make his NHL debut on January 11 of this year. While that was his only appearance of the season with the big club, he did compile 3-15-18 in 33 games with the AHL Chicago Wolves.
The 23-year-old Brandon, Manitoba native is a gritty forward known for his two-way play. He has the potential to be a solid bottom-six winger for the VGK in years to come, but for now expect him to start with the Henderson Silver Knights in 2020-21.
Kolesar was acquired by the Golden Knights at the June 2017 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for one of Vegas’ second round picks. Originally the 6-2, 227 lb. winger was selected in the third round, 69th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015.
Foley Wants Fans in Stands for VGK
Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley appeared on the Vegas Hockey Hotline show with Brian Blessing yesterday, and may have let the cat out of the bag on some of the NHL’s plans for the upcoming season.
Fans in the Stands
It’s no secret that the NHL is gunning for a January 1 restart date for the season, regardless of length. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said on several occasions he wants to hold that line, leaving the potential for a Winter Classic to open the season. While that sounds appealing on many levels, I can’t imagine the league wanting to open its doors – especially with a Winter Classic – that doesn’t feature fans.
“If we’re not playing (in front of) fans, I don’t know if a lot of teams can make it. Including us – it’s going to be very difficult.”
Foley acknowledged he as an owner and other owners would have to make a “serious financial commitment” to fund their teams if fans weren’t allowed in the building. Foley did say he believes Commissioner Bettman has a plan and isn’t looking to play games to empty houses.
The real question is when fans would be allowed back, and how many games would the NHL play. Foley went on to point out that with the Tokyo Olympics moved back to the summer of 2021, the NHL has to wrap this upcoming season by the end of June. NHL American rightsholder NBC has both events, and the Olympics are a massive ratings horse for the network.
Restart Date and Scheduling
Foley did offer his thoughts that he believes the NHL will play an “abbreviated season and an accelerated season,” adding fuel to reports of 48 and 60 game campaigns we’ve heard in recent days. A shortened campaign is not unprecedented, and in fact I was with Nashville last time it happened coming out of the 2012-13 lockout. We played a 48-game season, and it definitely lent some urgency to every game. The feeling was more of a sprint than the typical marathon of the NHL season.
While I understand that maxing out home game revenues with the most games you can have is important, I also would say that a shorter season will generate more intensity and fan passion because of the weight of each game. It could help drive broadcast revenues as well. Clearly the more games the better for the bottom line, but all is not lost with a shortened season.
For his part, Foley predicts less than 60 games, saying he thinks it’s “48 or 56, and it’s going to be a lot of games quickly.”
This has been a hot topic in hockey circles lately. Traveling back-and-forth across the Canadian border presents several health challenges to teams, especially with the border closed to non-essential traffic through at least January 1. Of course, hockey players were designated essential personnel and allowed to cross to enter the bubble earlier this year.
That said, there’s a lot of upside to a seven-team Canadian division, not the least of which would be crazy intensity north of the border. If every other Canadian team is a division rival, those teams and their fans will have one crazy season. Plus it will briefly regionalize the other divisions, something that could lead to new and exciting rivalries.
We already know when it comes to sports fans that change is slow to be embraced, but in the era of COVID-19 we’re getting used to it. I could see the Golden Knights spawning more rivalries with teams like St. Louis, Nashville and resuming its beef with Dallas in the regular season.
For his part, Foley added that he thinks “they’re going to play a Canadian division. I don’t think (teams) are going to be crossing the border.”
Foley on the Bubble
Foley also said that he thought the Golden Knights were “worn out” in the bubble.
“I feel like our guys got a little worn out. They just got tired of being isolated, and I think that showed against Dallas… we just weren’t the same team that we were earlier in the playoffs. It’s too bad, I believe if we had been playing at home, we would have beaten Dallas, and then we would have been in the Stanley Cup, and then we would have seen what happens.
A few media members even had the temerity to suggest that this Cup was easier to win, which invited blowback from fans and from Tampa Bay Lightning players directly. While there was an obvious lack of travel involved, the mental stress on players and staff easily outstripped the physical demands. If you don’t think that matters, consider how easy it is for you to finish any task at work when you’re mentally checked out or stressed. Now make work NHL hockey. Exactly.
As a final thought on a bubble for next season, Foley dismissed the idea.
“I know the Commissioner is dedicated to having a season and awarding the Stanley Cup, but you can’t play in bubbles. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. You can’t afford it.”
Now the wait is on for VGK fans to see when the NHL gets back on the ice.
Vegas’ Second Line Center Could Come From Within
2C or not 2C? That is the question… for many forwards on the Vegas Golden Knights headed into the 2020-21 season. Who will be Vegas’ second line center?
When it comes to Stastny’s replacement, Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon hinted that the team was going to look inside the organization for his replacement.
“I mentioned last week with trading Paul we feel we’ve got some internal candidates who need more opportunity.”
Who are those candidates to be Vegas’ second line center? VHN takes a look.
Let’s start with 21-year-old Cody Glass, who was the first player ever drafted by the Golden Knights at sixth overall in 2017. Last season Glass appeared in 39 regular season games with 12 points before a March knee injury derailed his season. Glass was not healthy enough to give it a go in the bubble when the Golden Knights returned to play.
The real question surrounding Glass will be whether he has completely recovered from that injury when camp rolls around. It’s one thing to complete rehab, and another to jump on the ice and push through training camp. If Glass has healed fully, the Winnipeg native will have a shot at filling Stastny’s role on the second line. It also helps that Glass is entering the second year of his ELC. This way he makes financial sense, but the impetus is there for him to perform as well.
Another option is the recently-signed Chandler Stephenson, who last week inked a four-year, $11M contract extension.
“Chandler was a really good fit upon joining our team, great utility in terms of his ability to play throughout the lineup,” said McCrimmon in announcing the signing. “(He brings) a real dimension of speed, (and is) a player we really think is going to be an important part of our team for the next four years.”
Stephenson did notch 20 games of playoff experience this year. He definitely showed enough to get fans excited about what his future could look like. Especially early on in the bubble when he saw action with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone I thought he looked comfortable and capable. Although his playoff stats don’t blow your mind (3-2-5, +2) Stephenson showed he can up his game with more capable players. Plus his ability to slide up and down the lineup will be key for the Golden Knights this season.
If Stephenson is able to build on his playoff showing, he could be a very strong candidate for the 2C position.
Peyton Krebs is an interesting possibility. A potential breakout star in the future, Krebs was part of the bubble contingent for the Golden Knights but didn’t see any action. But just by being there, practicing and taking the occasional warmup speaks volumes about where the VGK see him now and in the future.
Krebs is just 19 years old, turning 20 in January. Last year in the Western Hockey League he posted 12-48-60 in just 38 games with Winnipeg. Krebs scored 25 of those points on the power play and if/when he makes the team might also get some time on the second power play unit to start.
Krebs is the one player I think can really disrupt the chain for the Golden Knights. Sometimes when a young center makes the big club for the first time, he isn’t immediately slotted in the middle. Players might end up on the wing, allowing them to concentrate more on the adjustment to the NHL game in a simpler role. Centers have additional defensive responsibilities that could overwhelm a player making the transition. It doesn’t mean Krebs won’t become a center eventually, but he could start on the wing.
The VGK also have Nicholas Roy available up front. The 23-year-old checks some needed boxes for the VGK. He’s on a very affordable two-year deal at $750k per. He is versatile and can play center or wing. And he seems to have earned the team’s trust, appearing in 28 games in the regular season and all 20 in the playoffs.
Moving forward Roy may stay on the wing, or if he returns to center could also potentially lead the fourth line. If his development continues he may become a key cog for Vegas this season.
Finally, Vegas also brought back Tomas Nosek on a one-year, $1.25M deal. Nosek has played center before but recently has been on the wing. It will remain to be seen if Nosek slides back to the middle depending on how the lines progress at training camp. Another valuable player who can move around up front, Nosek also lends a bit more of a veteran presence at age 28.
In the end, the Golden Knights do have plenty of options up the middle already in-house. Glass and Stephenson figure to be the primary candidates for Vegas’ second line center role, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see a surprise in camp. Stay tuned for what promises to be a great position battle.