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.”