Today, the NHL announced in a press release that the league has postponed the Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Weekend due to uncertainty with COVID-19.
Does this confirm what Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said last week about a potential February 1 start or later?
In an interview with Vegas Hockey Hotline Foley touched on a number of subjects, but one of his most telling quotes was his remarks on not having fans in the stands in 2021.
“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 said.
He did acknowledge that he believed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has a plan and won’t have teams traveling to play in different arenas due to the massive financial burden of doing in empty buildings.
Foley also brought up Bettman’s wish to start on January 1.
“He’s (Bettman) saying January 1st, I don’t know. Maybe February 1st. Maybe an abbreviated season and an accelerated season.”
It is possible to play a shortened season of 48 games or so. I was a part of one in Nashville when the league last came out of a lockout in 2013. It was exciting because every game mattered. A three-game win streak could put you into the playoffs. A three-game losing streak could derail your chances. Each time out you could feel what was at stake, and it led to some fantastic hockey.
Also, to this day I have never come across someone who says that the 2013 Stanely Cup should have an asterisk next to it. That it was easier to win or less meaningful. Ask any member of that Chicago Blackhawks team if the ring shines any less bright. Same as with the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, there will be no question as to how hard it was to win. The difference for 2020 is that there will always be talk of the bubble in the playoffs… unless we enter one in 2021 as well. Perspectives shift.
Additionally, Foley pointed out the need to finish next season before the Tokyo Olympics. NBC’s broadcast commitments to the games would preclude the NHL from finishing in July. So if a February 1 start happens, you know you need eight weeks for the playoffs. Therefore you have to wrap the regular season by the end of April. That means 13 weeks. A typical NHL schedule has three games per week on it. That’s 39 games. To add in another nine games to get to 48 could mean four games a week in 75% of those weeks. Hard, but possible.
The Winter Classic was to be held January 1 in Minnesota featuring the Wild against the St. Louis Blues, while All-Star Weekend was slated for Sunrise, Florida January 29-30. The league said it plans to return to these cities to host the events, but did not say when. A 48-game schedule doesn’t preclude a Winter Classic, but ensures no All-Star Weekend. However, odds are that it would also shelve the Winter Classic for this year.
There are no hard answers yet and the situation continues to evolve. However it appears to me that we are indeed looking farther into 2021 to start the next NHL season.
Thursday game between Golden Knights and Sharks postponed
The game between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks set for Thursday at SAP Center has been postponed.
The Sharks announced that a player entered COVID-19 protocol and, out of “an abundance of caution,” the game was moved. The player was forward Tomas Hertl, the league announced when it released its COVID absences list at 2 p.m. PT.
At time of writing, the NHL has not announced a makeup date for this game. Thursday was originally supposed to be the start of a two-game slate against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
That game was moved to make up one of two Golden Knights-Sharks games due to postponements on the Vegas side with Alex Pietrangelo and the coaching staff entering protocol.
Vegas won the first meeting of the season between the rivals, 3-1, at SAP Center on Feb. 13.
San Jose canceled its 11 a.m. practice.
The Golden Knights, meanwhile, held practice at City National Arena on Wednesday and intended on traveling to Northern California shortly after.
Turns out, barring schedule changes, the Golden Knights will get a couple of more days off. Vegas’ next game is at Anaheim on Saturday.
Lehner was doubtful to travel
Prior to the postponement, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said it was doubtful that goalie Robin Lehner would travel with the team to San Jose.
Lehner did not practice Wednesday as he continues to rehab from an upper-body injury. The goalie hasn’t played since Feb. 7, but it appeared he would be back to practice after Vegas re-assigned Oscar Dansk to the Henderson Silver Knights.
However, Vegas recalled Logan Thompson from Henderson and assigned him to its taxi squad. Dansk will start for Henderson on Wednesday and Friday against the San Diego Gulls.
“From everything I’m hearing, he’s progressing in a positive manner,” DeBoer said.
Goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson is also still with the big club for the time being.
With Lehner out again, the expectation would’ve been Marc-Andre Fleury to make his eighth consecutive start.
Oscar Dansk was re-assigned to Henderson. He will start Wednesday and Friday against the San Diego Gulls, Silver Knights coach Manny Viveiros said.
Golden Knights tickets go on sale Thursday for March games
Tickets for Vegas Golden Knights home games during March will go on sale to the public on Thursday.
Fans who want to see the Golden Knights inside T-Mobile Arena for the first time in nearly a year will get their opportunity. Tickets will be on sale starting 10 a.m. Thursday, starting with Vegas’ upcoming home game against the Minnesota Wild on March 1.
Season ticket holders and Can’t Wait List members will have first priority on Wednesday.
“We like to, as always, allocate seats for our partial season ticket members, single-game buyers and group buyers,” said Todd Pollock, the Golden Knights’ vice president of ticketing and suites. “In terms of who’s going to have access, we did give our members the opportunity to retain their money on file for this season.”
Pollock said on a normal basis, roughly 80 percent of T-Mobile Arena is comprised of season ticket holders. The anticipation is there will be a limited number of tickets available to the public.
“We’re not going to have zero [tickets available] when people go on,” Pollock said. “There will be tickets. It’s just a function of how many have we actually sold through in the first set of presales to our members. Again, our goal is to do our best to take care of our members as much as we can.”
As of now, there are no plans for tickets beyond March. Pollock said they want to make next month a test run to ensure operations run smoothly.
Parking will be complimentary at New York-New York, Park MGM, MGM Grand, and Excalibur. Fans will also need to undergo day-of-game symptom screening via the CLEAR app, and masks must be worn with the exception of eating or drinking.
No bags will be permitted inside the arena, and all tickets are digital. None will be available at will call.
“Again, we acknowledge and understand that it’s an imperfect situation that we’re in,” Pollock said. “The great thing is we have so many members and so many fans that want to come to games. The downside is we don’t even have enough seats with 17,000 seats in a normal setting, let alone at 15 percent capacity.”
Plans for tickets to attend Henderson Silver Knights games are still in the works, Pollock said. Based on the Clark County directive, approximately 1,400 fans will be able to be in Orleans Arena.
March 18 is the soonest fans can be allowed at Silver Knights games.
“We do hope that for games later in March that we’re in the same position or even a greater position in terms of our capacity,” Pollock said.
When the Golden Knights host the Wild, it will have been 363 days since fans have been at T-Mobile Arena. Fans have gone as far as to travel to Glendale, Arizona for Coyotes games to see their team. But there’s nothing like watching a game at T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas will be the 11th team to allow fans.
Alex Tuch’s strong start continues after promotion to Golden Knights top line
Alex Tuch was the Nathan MacKinnon-like player the Vegas Golden Knights needed on Monday.
Lower your torches and pitchforks before you think I’m comparing Tuch to one of the top three players in the world.
It goes without saying Tuch is the best power skater on the Golden Knights. You combine the smooth skating and speed that he’s continued to develop since becoming a full-time NHL player, and you have a guy that impacts the game in all three zones.
Much like what MacKinnon does for the Colorado Avalanche.
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer threw his lineup in a blender Monday in Denver, and it paid off. Vegas won 3-0 and salvaged a split in the four-game series with Colorado.
“I thought our last few games, we’ve been making strides defensively,” Tuch said. “I think we’ve really tried to be hard against their top guys, and it led to a little bit of offense, and we buried our chances.”
Two goals came from Tuch, who was moved to the top line with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Max Pacioretty moved to the second line with Cody Glass and Reilly Smith, while Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson were getting third-line minutes with Nicolas Roy.
Tuch, who led all Vegas forwards in ice time at 18:48, has three goals in two games and is one behind Pacioretty (8) for the team lead. His 13 points tie him for second on Vegas, trailing Stone.
“Tuchy’s had a great year,” DeBoer said. “He’s earned everything’s he’s got with hard work and to have a good start to the season.”
Tuch has shown flashes of being ready for a top-line role in the past but never lived up to that capability when given the chance. This promotion was different. The Golden Knights were in need of a massive offensive shakeup after accumulating four goals at 5-on-5 in the previous five games entering Monday.
Vegas got two in its most important game of the season.
But as the game wore on and the Golden Knights had their best outing of this short season, Tuch’s promotion wasn’t just about his scoring. Tuch was moved to the top because he’s the only player in that group that can go toe-to-toe with MacKinnon.
To be clear: It takes a village to neutralize MacKinnon, let alone slow him down. He’s going to get his chances. The Hart Trophy finalist had five shot attempts Monday, three of them on goal.
Stone is methodical and exceptional at causing turnovers but has never been the fastest skater. Stephenson has the speed but doesn’t have that game-breaking impact.
Tuch, however, is a fast, powerful skater who is still getting better defensively. Look no further than this backcheck on MacKinnon.
This is what I mean by MacKinnon-like. No other player has the size and speed on this roster to make it happen. The Golden Knights can converge on MacKinnon and make him give up the puck, but do so at your own risk when having to face Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
“I liked him as much defensively [Monday] as I did offensively,” DeBoer said. “With his speed defensively, he’s one guy who can hunt down guys like MacKinnon from behind.”
Tuch was on the ice with MacKinnon for 6:24.
“Really tiring,” an exasperated Tuch said laughing about defending MacKinnon. “A lot of plays are going to go through him, and we know that because of how good he is. We didn’t want to give him time and space. We wanted to frustrate him as much as possible. They’re deep, but that top line is a whole other animal.”
DeBoer, however, said Tuch’s promotion wasn’t meant to neutralize MacKinnon.
“I felt we hadn’t scored easily in the first three games against these guys,” DeBoer said. “We wanted to freshen some things up and hopefully loosen some things up offensively with some different looks. I think that happened.
“With Tuchy, it’s just adding layers to his game every year. He’s still a young player. Recognizing he can use that speed defensively, as well as offensively, it makes it easy to play him against guys like MacKinnon because he can skate with those guys.”
Vegas’ top line was good before the shakeup. Not just because Pacioretty and Stone can impact a game at the drop of a hat, but Stephenson’s speed is just as important.
He doesn’t possess the skill of a MacKinnon down the middle, but Stephenson’s speed opened the ice up for Pacioretty and Stone. They only need an inch or two to make things happen. Replace Pacioretty with Tuch, and you have a combination of speed and power that worked on Monday.
The hope, if you’re Vegas, is this line doesn’t allow 15 attempts while only generating five at 5-on-5, but there’s something there.
“Those two guys are unbelievable players,” Tuch said of his new linemates. “Playing with Stoney, you know he’s going to make plays like that and put me in open ice. Chandler’s just an unbelievable 200-foot player. They’re easy to play with.”
As the age-old adage goes, if it’s broke, fix it. For one night, Alex Tuch on the top line fixed a lot of things.