What happens to the 2020-21 NHL season if there’s a national lockdown in the United States after President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn into office on January 20?
Just as it has the airwaves and press clippings, the potential 2020-21 NHL season start date and format has been the topic du jour amongst ‘NHL Professionals’ (players, coaches, scouts, management, agents) since our last edition of ‘Off The Record.’
There’s also been some trade and free agent chatter, but more speculation as teams, players, and agents await the fate of the 2020-21 NHL season while the second wave of COVID hammers North America worse than the first, and the transition of the United States Presidency remains on hold.
Warning: The first three OTR tidbits this week are not going to cheer you up, but the reality is that not just at the rink but in North American life in general, the news is not bright.
1. Could The NHL Go Dark For A Whole Season Again?
From a 35-game season to a 48-game schedule reminiscent of the lockout seasons in 1994-95 and 2012-13, there is a multitude of options being discussed. The consensus is that an 82-game schedule is not possible at this point, but the NHL has not officially ruled one out. They also continue to cling on to the hope of a January 1 start, but right now, that seems to be almost impossible. There’s growing chatter that some NHL owners even think going dark for an entire NHL season could be more economically feasible than trying to salvage even a 35-game season that is starting to be discussed.
Off the record: The reality is that, with even some fans by the end of the season, a large enough portion of NHL owners are likely going to lose money by having a season. Could we have the first dark season since the 2004-05 season was wiped out by the lockout that led to the first NHL salary cap?
As one NHL agent suggested to Off The Record over the weekend, that’s not as unrealistic as it may seem right now:
“What’s going to happen if the current President doesn’t do something now to get COVID under control again? We’re likely looking at a lockdown when Biden finally gets in there, and that’s right around that mid-January to February period we’re probably starting in. What then? How can we play and travel if we’re in a two-week lockdown? It’s hard to think about, but it wouldn’t shock me if we went dark again.”
That source stressed that the league and NHLPA would do everything they can to avoid that scenario, but as his questions show, they’re ultimately at the mercy of the virus and other external situations. Could it be just a matter of time before a dark season is on the drawing board as well?
2. Could A Labor Battle Delay Or Prevent An NHL Return?
As if the NHL and NHLPA don’t have enough to deal with, could a work stoppage end up being a monkey wrench in a potential NHL Return To Play and the 2020-21 NHL season?
As Larry Brooks pointed out recently, the players have been and are still insisting on an 82-game schedule because they know that with a truncated schedule, the owners will want the players to take an even bigger pay cut than the 28 percent they already agreed to for this upcoming season. The general feeling is that the owners won’t ask for prorated salaries, but they will ask for the players to defer more of their salaries to help teams offset even a bit of the heavy losses they will continue to suffer going forward due to lack of gate receipts and other profit they depend on in a normal season.
Off the Record: “I don’t see how owners can even ask for another deferral. Maybe they should’ve insisted on that when they knew damn well this virus wasn’t likely to go away anytime soon,” a prominent NHL agent told Off The Record recently.
As the NHL Return To Play Committee rolls up their sleeves and gets down to work on finding the right format, this elephant in the room is starting to rear its ugly head.
3. AHL and ECHL Will Have Prorated Salaries
While NHL players will not accept prorated salaries, AHLers and ECHL players don’t really have a choice right now. Players in these leagues have not received any paychecks since last April and continue to have no income coming in right now.
“The players are not getting paid,” AHL President and CEO Scott Howson told Boston Hockey Now recently. “They got paid through the end of last year, and they are not getting paid right now. They will start getting paid when our season starts.”
Off the Record: “Remember a really significant portion of players in the AHL and ECHL may never taste the NHL, and this is like a real job for them. This is their livelihood,” an NHL Scout pointed out to OTR recently. “They’re going to take anything they can get right now because the bills are piling up for them just like most of us. If that means the salaries are prorated, so be it.”
Another industry source indicated that while the AHL is shooting for February 5 as their start date, the ECHL is pushing for December 11. While that seems rather unrealistic, the source pointed out that many of the ECHL teams play in areas where COVID restrictions aren’t as strict.
4. How Will Islanders Sign Mathew Barzal?
The New York Islanders have just $3 million in salary-cap space and still must find a way to sign their best player, restricted free agent Mathew Barzal. As reported here, General Manager Lou Lamoriello has been shopping defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy for a while now but has been unable to find any takers to take on their respective salaries in an NHL trade market that becomes more financially strapped by the day. Could Lamoriello try and unload a forward instead?
Off the Record: “I’d keep an eye on Josh Bailey,” one NHL source told OTR. “I know he’s got three years left at a $5 million whack per year, but he might fit in good on a young team that has space like Detroit or Ottawa.”
5. Duck Calls
Anaheim Ducks General Manager Bob Murray has apparently been one of the more active GM’s working the phones lately, and he tries to not just get cap compliant but hopefully get to the point where he has just a little wiggle room during the season. The Ducks are currently $979,999 over the cap, and while names like Rickard Rakell (2 years, $3.7 million cap hit) and Jakub Silfverburg (4 years, $5.2 million cap hit) continue to be bantered about, would the Ducks ever ask 35-year-old captain Ryan Getzlaf – who is in the final year of an eight-year contract that carries an $8.2 million cap hit – to waive his no-movement clause for another shot at the Stanley Cup?
Off the Record: “I can tell you that I know of three teams that have looked into that,” an NHL source told OTR on Monday. “I’m not sure where the team and Getzlaf stand on this, but it’s definitely a real possibility if they’re both OK with it.”
Off The Record: NHL Agents At Boiling Point, NHL Return Stalled | VHN+
Are we getting to a point where a potential NHL Return To Play and the Boston Bruins 2020-21 season is in serious jeopardy because of labor issues and the second wave of COVID-19, which is raging around the world?
“Talks are at a standstill. It’s really quiet,” a prominent NHL agent told “Off the Record” on Monday.
While there is still a good deal of hope for an NHL Return, the owners’ latest request to alter the collective bargaining agreement, which was signed just five months ago, left the players fuming and their agents wondering when is enough with the “constant concessions” players have made since the 2004-05 lockout?
In other words, the NHL’s offer may have re-opened old wounds. Some are beginning to ask: Would some NHL owners and even the league be OK with canceling the 2020-21 NHL season?
That and more in the latest National Hockey Now “Off The Record”:
Off the Record: Stars Circle Back to Former VGK Haula, CBJ + Hoffman? | VHN+
In terms of the NHL Trade market and unrestricted free agent signings, it remains quiet but thanks to injuries, we may also see the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets sign some key unrestricted free agents.
The restricted free agent market has been more active. Some players like New York Rangers forwards Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux as well as Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar avoided arbitration with their respective teams. Other RFA’s like Detroit Red Wings winger Anthony Mantha re-upped long-term. That appears to be the trend for now as an array of cap-strapped teams continue to just take care of their own young talent and wait for the UFA and NHL Trade markets to open up.
“I honestly don’t see that happening until we at least have a tentative start date for the season and teams know the potential calendar they’re dealing with to sort things out,” an NHL executive told Off The Record recently.
Another NHL source with direct knowledge of the planning for the 2021 season believes the players aren’t going to agree to anything before January 15.
“I think it’s February. I don’t think any player is going to vote to do training camp over the [Christmas and New Year] holidays. It might be January 15, but I think it’s more likely somewhere [in early] February.”
Until then, there’s still going to be plenty of chatter amongst NHL league and team executives, scouts, coaches, players, and agents. This is where you can find out what the chatter’s all about. Welcome to another edition of National Hockey Now’s ‘Off The Record’!
1. What About the AHL?
The AHL already announced a tentative start date of February 5 but plenty of AHL players are wondering if they will get paid before then?
Off the record: “These guys have contracts so why aren’t they being paid?” one prominent hockey agent asked OTR Monday. “Nobody seems to have an answer for this. Some of these guys are going to feel that pinch soon if they’re not already. Where are the parent NHL clubs on this too? These are questions that need to be answered.”
2. Dallas Hurt, Looking at Haula
The Dallas Stars just got a double-whammy of bad injury news as goalie Ben Bishop (torn meniscus in right knee) and center Tyler Seguin (right hip arthroscopy and labral repair) will both be out for five months after surgeries in the last three weeks. After signing Roope Hintz to a three-year contract worth $9.45 million on Monday, the Dallas Stars currently have $3.4 million in cap space.
Off the Record: NHL source confirmed to OTR Monday that the Stars had already explored signing UFA center Erik Haula and with the injury to Seguin, have circled back with the Haula camp.
As of now, goalie Jake Oettinger will likely back up Anton Khudobin but could the Dallas Stars could explore the NHL free agency and NHL trade markets for a more experienced backup?
Off the Record: On Monday, an NHL agent agreed with OTR that UFA goalie Jimmy Howard could be a target, pointing out the link that Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill has to Howard from their days together in Detroit when Nill was the Assistant GM.
3. Calgary Flames Needs and Options
On October 30, Darren Dreger reported that the Calgary Flames were looking (not urgently) for another right-shot defenseman. Given the fact that current Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin’s name has been in NHL Trade rumors before, I made some calls to see if Calgary GM Brad Treliving could use Hanafin as trade bait to acquire another RHD, but also unload some cap space.
Off the Record: The consensus amongst those calls to scouts and one high-ranking Hockey Op’s member of an NHL team was that Hanifin isn’t being shopped but that doesn’t mean Treliving won’t at least listen to a ‘hockey trade’ type offer.
So, take Hanifin out of the NHL trade rumors, unless a team comes calling with him as their primary target. However, Calgary has just over $1 million in cap space and Hanifin has four left with a $4.9 cap hit per season. Based on those same conversations, keep an eye on the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and the Columbus Blue Jackets as teams that could begin those conversations.
4. Mike Hoffman: Columbus or Nashville?
Many around the NHL have been waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets. With the recent news that Columbus Blue Jackets will be without forward Gustav Nyquist for five to six months after his surgery for a torn labrum, there’s been plenty of chatter that Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen will increase his pursuit of UFA winger Mike Hoffman.
The Blue Jackets made a very noticeable effort to clear cap space over the last two months and with $8.1 million remaining he has enough to sign Hoffman to a one-year deal like the one-year, $8 million contract Taylor Hall signed with the Buffalo Sabres last month.
Off the Record: Is it a good fit for Columbus? One NHL source cautioned linking the Blue Jackets to Hoffman because of John Tortorella’s team-first mentality. That “sum of the parts” mantra helped Columbus navigate through an array of injuries and player departures over the last two seasons.
Would Kekalainen want to risk disrupting that culture he has built if there are really character issues with Hoffman?
Another industry source said Hoffman issues were “overblown” and the room in Florida liked him.
5. New York Islanders Come Full Circle
Could New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk be a cap casualty and leave Long Island in the same way the Boston Bruins dealt him to New York?
Off the Record: According to one NHL source, that’s been the plan for a while now but there have been no bites on him and the two years $6 million AAV cap hit left on his contract.
It’s no secret the Isles have listened to offers for Nick Leddy and the two years with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million but with the stranglehold on so many teams’ cap situations, GM Lou Lamoriello can’t find fair value.
Bonus: Montreal Canadiens – NYI Trade Talk
Off the Record: An NHL source close to this situation confirmed to OTR that prior to this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens tried to trade for Leddy on more than one occasion. Given Montreal GM Marc Bergevin’s active offseason and Montreal is over the $81.5 salary cap ceiling, things have clearly changed.