Is anyone really prepared for this?
We’re less than an hour away from what will surely be the craziest opening day of free agency we’ve ever seen. Several big-name players like Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug, Taylor Hall and more are expected to hit the open market. There will be an insane amount of goaltenders out there. And the one key thread that unites them all is the consequences of the flat salary cap for the 2020-21 season.
Teams simply won’t have the ability to throw money around as they have in previous seasons. Several teams are in jeopardy already and that’s before even making a run at improving the team. The Vegas Golden Knights have several players popping up in trade talks from the obvious Marc-Andre Fleury to Peter Stastny and Nate Schmidt. Yes, the VGK could use some breathing room because of how tight to the cap ceiling they are. PuckPedia has the Golden Knights currently sitting at -$2.5M in cap room, and other teams are in no rush to help them out. Other clubs are bound by their own constraints of real money, internal caps and contract issues. Plus you really can’t expect teams to line up to help a club that made the Western Conference Final.
On top of it all, most teams will be active in free agency this year because there will be bargains aplenty. Guys who pre-virus thought they were due for a raise might find the market unwilling. This is going to cause a lot more shifting in the sands especially at the lower reaches as players go without qualifying offers and flood the market even more.
When asked what to expect on Friday, Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon said “I think that’s the question everyone is asking.”
He talked about how having more players available on top of the compressed timeline from draft to free agency makes for an unusual year. McCrimmon cited the example of Nick Cousins, whom the Golden Knights did not qualify because of cap constraints.
“He’s an example of one of those players that played well enough you would have easily been able to justify qualifying him. It doesn’t mean we won’t revisit it. We like Nick, we thought he contributed in his time here, but in terms of making the decision (for the opening of free agency) that was the direction that we went.”
Cousins could end up back in a Vegas sweater. Head coach Pete DeBoer seemed to take a shine to him, and his effort in the playoffs was noticeable. But again, it boils down to dollars and sense. Clearly Vegas wants to take a run at some of the bigger names out there, but will they be able to afford it? And even provided they make some room for a splash, can they then fill out the roster around the shiny new bauble?
It’s a hard argument to settle. I wouldn’t tell anyone to get their hopes up, but it’s not impossible either. Many teams are in similar situations for the next year or two at least and the teams that can afford to help them know that. The prices extracted for that help will be high. But in terms of taking a run in your window to win a Stanley Cup, you have to sacrifice something. For the Golden Knights, it could be organizational depth in terms of prospects and picks. It could be cash. And it could mean parting with a player you really like, but have to move to get a deal done.
The Good News
There is already a lot of good news for VGK fans. Your starting goalie of the future is locked up for the next five years. You also have solid deals in place with players like Shea Theodore and Mark Stone. The core of a contender is solidly there.
Cost certainty is a phrase you’re going to hear a lot over the next few days for good reason. It’s important for teams to know who they have and for how long when projecting ahead to an NHL where the cap simply doesn’t rise. It’s going to take a while for hockey-related revenue to bounce back, which means the handcuffs teams find themselves in now are going to be on them for a few more seasons. Vegas is going into free agency seeking that certainty not only for this season but beyond. It’s crucial to the stability of the on-ice product and the ability to contend over the next several seasons.
At some point contracts have to move. At its core, hockey is a business. Players are assets. When those assets are no longer returning the expected investment, you divest yourself of them. The hard part is when you form the attachment that makes teams do foolish things like hang onto players too long. It’s a hard part of the process.
So I expect McCrimmon and the Golden Knights to make some tough decisions. Just like they had to do with Cousins, it isn’t easy but it has to be done in today’s game. Fleury, Schmidt, Stastny and many other names will be in play. It wouldn’t surprise me to see another forward moved out, or perhaps a top prospect. Vegas has not shied away from moving good young players like Nick Suzuki or Erik Brannstrom in previous trades.
Whatever deals may come, Vegas is about to take its fans on a wild ride into next season. Buckle up!
Tom’s Daily: Bullying; Bertuzzi Arb; Daley Retires
Tom’s Daily features news and notes from around the NHL in digest form.
Looks like the Vegas Reverse Retro jerseys are due to be announced in mid-November, along with several other teams according to Sports Business Journal. Not to be confused with the just-released golds.
I know a lot of people balked at the Islanders only getting two second round draft picks back for Devon Toews, but that haul would come to look pretty good in the days after the deal. Now Colorado has inked the promising young defender to a four-year deal. (NHL)
Trevor Daley has called it a career, and the Pittsburgh Penguins hire him as a hockey operations advisor. Many in the hockey community see Daley as a future GM. (PittsburghHockeyNow)
Tyler Bertuzzi received a $3.5M award in arbitration today. The 25-year-old was seeking a one-year, $4.25M deal while the Detroit Red Wings had countered at $3.15M. (TSN)
Arizona Coyotes top draft pick Mitchell Miller was charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February of 2016 for bullying an African American classmate with developmental disabilities. (AZCentral)
That’s it for today’s Tom’s Daily. Keep your browser pointed to VHN for the latest in the world of hockey.
Vegas Reverse Retro Jersey Confirmed?
Vegas Reverse Retro Jersey Appears Confirmed by Sports Business Journal Tweet
For the last few weeks there have been alleged leaks of different jerseys across social media including a red Vegas Golden Knights jersey. There have also been images of jerseys for the Anaheim Ducks, Pittsbrugh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and even San Jose Sharks.
However, according to San Jose Sharks President Jonathan Becher, the alternate sweaters were a hoax:
Entertained by the alternate jerseys designs on social media labeled as based on inside info. We have creative fans! None of these designs are real
— Jonathan Becher (@jbecher) October 22, 2020
This tweet appears to refer to a Sharks jersey echoing the California Golden Seals that had been making the rounds, but also in saying “none” of these designs are real seems to be nodding towards all the designs floating out there. We’ve seen photos of jerseys for sale on eBay, posted on various websites, and proliferating on fan accounts. While I don’t always buy in to jersey rumors, in this case you could sense there might be fire and not just smoke.
This morning, Sports Business Journal put out the following tweet:
Sources: The #NHL and @Adidas are planning for a broader mid-November unveiling of the widely-rumored reverse retro-style jerseys. The fourth jerseys, as they’ve been referred to online, will be worn by teams in select games (@markjburns88).https://t.co/m92zAGgykS pic.twitter.com/mcz5hnIsNE
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) October 27, 2020
Interesting photo choice, eh?
This all but locks in that the NHL is indeed going to release the series of jerseys in a few weeks, including the red Vegas Reverse Retro jersey we spoke of last week. The jersey pays homage to the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder with its “V” shaped striping, updated to Vegas Golden Knights colors. The jersey also features the team’s secondary star logo as the main crest. The Knight helm is on the shoulders.
While reception has been mixed, I think that once fans have a chance to see them for real they’ll be a stunner.
The Vegas Reverse Retro jersey will be worn for “select” games this season. Perhaps they will be worn against other teams with the jerseys. Since the original leak photo juxtaposed Vegas and an updated Wild Wing Anaheim Ducks jersey, it’s fair to assume that will be a matchup featuring the jerseys.
Another potential matchup for the red Vegas Reverse Retro jersey could be against the Colorado Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon posted a picture of Quebec Nordiques-color gloves on his Instagram with the caption “new colors crazy”. The Avs moved out of La Belle Provence in the mid-90s because of economic considerations. But the baby blue jerseys remain popular with the retro crowd to this day… and those of us old enough to remember what a fierce Adams Division rival the Nordiques were.
We’re also seeing Dallas teasing a jersey release for Wednesday by showing us just a black piece of jersey fabric. This morning they posted the following video:
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) October 27, 2020
So it looks like the Stars are going to be going either monochromatic, or perhaps have just a very slight reference to the team’s signature green in them. But this release doesn’t match up with the Reverse Retro. It seems more in line with the VGK Golds that were released a few weeks ago.
Give it a few weeks Golden Knights fans. We will see the new Vegas Reverse Retro jersey out there soon.
Who Joins the Vegas Golden Knights in a Pandemic Division?
We here at VHN are in “fun mode” at this point of the off-season. It’s fun to follow thoughts and ideas that swirled at various points in the last few weeks but had to be shelved for stuff like “breaking news“, “Alex Pietrangelo” and “Robin Lehner vs. Marc-Andre Fleury IN A STEEL CAGE!”.
Well, maybe the last one combined reality with one of those crazy ideas…
But at this point, we don’t have any real idea of when the season will start. It appears less likely with the second wave of COVID-19 things actually do hit that January 1 initial projection. Vegas owner Bill Foley has speculated it could be February 1 if not later.
I think it’s a given that we will see a shorter season, likely 48 games. Historical precedence exists and for TV reasons the season has to end by the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
Likewise I don’t think you can play this season in a bubble, but you might be able to hub for part of it. If the teams did hub, I believe it would be at the start of the season. Once the border between Canada and the US is open again for non-essential travel I see things going back to what we consider “normal”.
So with that in mind, here are my predictions for Pandemic Division distribution for when the NHL would resume play in January/February.
Yes. A Canadian pandemic division would be essential and is actually a great size. Plus, it gives the Canadian networks must-watch matchups almost all the time to start the season. So we have Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in the CD. Plus if the US/Canada border really does remain closed until at least January 1 if not beyond, it’s pretty much how the NHL has to proceed. So we might as well warm up to the idea now.
Look at the immediate benefits of Toronto/Montreal and Edmonton/Calgary hammering away at each other as they’ve always done. Then we have the potential for new rivalries with the Jets who are the only centralized team in Canada. Everyone else is closer to the coasts. Plus with Ottawa spending the way they are and with an owner saying they’ll win a Stanley Cup in four years, they’re a team to watch.
Obviously this leads to questions, such as structure for the remaining divisions, each of which will have eight teams because I’m having four divisions. What happens to the Golden Knights and the former Pacific Division?
What Happens To Vegas
The VGK will end up in a pandemic division with current rivals San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. But to fill out the last three teams in the division, I’m going to draw a new map and create some awesome rivalries. Coming in as the last teams will be the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and St. Louis Blues.
This would undoubtedly be the most fun possible for VGK fans because it grows the rivalry with Dallas; Colorado/Vegas will turn out to be the marquee matchup in my opinion; St. Louis wants its mojo back and has something to prove. Plus imagine the Pietrangelo vs. STL storyline playing out six times or more in a season.
I realize you might think this sounds like the creation of someone with inherent bias, but geographically it makes sense. Ignore for just the start of the season how Dallas hated being in the Pacific and left for the Central. It rekindles those old Ducks/Stars matchups that used to get out hand. Everyone will be gunning for Dallas and for Vegas. Colorado could be the best team in the NHL to start the season if healthy, yet in a division like this it will be survival of the fittest. Plus, even if you write off Arizona and the California teams (sorry Sharks fans) for the season, this setup gives you the potential for a great clash somewhere every single night.
This pandemic division was also altered from my first call. Originally it was an easy time to lump Buffalo, New Jersey, NYI, NYR, Boston, Philly, Pittsburgh and Columbus together. Nice and tidy. But that left me with that oddball “South” division which wasn’t very southern for half of it.
So as I always say, sacrifices have to be made, but the division might be better for it.
Now, I have a lineup I’m pretty happy with. I take the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.
Wow – really shook up some things there! And broke off the traditional rivalries that go all the way back to the Patrick Division days with PIT/PHI and the NY teams. But let’s look at some of the crazy awesome upside here.
FOUR of the Original Six teams are in a division together. For Detroit, they only recently came back to the Eastern Conference. Chicago has been in the West for a long time and is now the only O-6 team out there. But look at it now! Hawks, Wings, Rangers and Bruins all in the same division. Rangers/Bruins has deep, angry roots and would be awesome to see renewed. Wings and Hawks much the same. Plus now Minnesota and Buffalo fans get a different perspective on things as well. I like how this works out for my “Southern” division as well. And for Buffalo it’s a chance to really finally establish that downstate rivalry in hockey.
Hopefully the NHL embraces the rare chance to realign and perhaps stoke some other unique rivalries. Initially I had this pandemic division looking somewhat differently than my final alignment. I had constructed a division that included the obvious Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers triangle.
Is now the time to say I miss the Atlanta Thrashers? RIP ATL hockey.
I was going to lump Washington in here with pretty much the rest of the Central Division, but I now realize that’s not going to play out as well as I first imagined.
So for my remaining five teams, I bring in the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
And believe it or not, I think there’s some nice synergies here.
Nashville and Pittsburgh rivalry? Well, the Penguins (and former Pred Patric Hornqvist) did deny Music City a Stanley Cup. This also keeps the Crosby/Ovechkin thing going – but I’m really over that narrative. However it appears the NHL and NBC are not.
Nashville and Columbus used to be rivals in the Barry Trotz/Ken Hitchcock days, but that’s faded with the CBJ in the east. Perhaps now they could rekindle that, especially with John Tortorella as the new protagonist.
I also think that Philly, Washington and Pittsburgh are good teams that will compete with each other every night. Now you have a division with legit contenders and a defending Stanley Cup champion going head-to-head to start the season almost every night. And let’s face it, Columbus can completely spoil an evening for anyone every time out.
In creating my pandemic division setup I allowed for some rivalry retention as well as nods towards recent clashes. I think this is the best balance of geography and rivalry, but what do you think? How would you align your four divisions? Let us know in the comments!