OK, let us forget about the financial issues of the NHL Return and talk about the actual framework for the 2020-21 NHL season, at least for a moment. The National Hockey League moved past the dollars to present the first real season proposal of the 2021 NHL Return’s new discussions to Play.
Friday morning, the NHL presented a 56-game schedule to the NHLPA, according to TSN reporter Frank Seravalli.
Drafts were based on Jan. 1 start date, but sides discussed pushing that back (Jan. 15 or 16?).
Told talks were unrelated to recent economic requests.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 4, 2020
The hope is, or was, for a Jan. 1 start date, but according to Seravalli, the two sides have acquiesced to reality and are looking at a Jan. 15-16 start date.
Via Twitter, Seravalli rightly commented this should be viewed as a positive development.
The NHL does have some time constraints as U.S. TV rights holder NBC owns the rights to the Olympic Games, which begin on July 15. NBC uses all of its television properties to broadcast the games, which means there would be no room for NHL playoff games beyond mid-July.
In recent weeks, the NHL and NHLPA have wrangled over economic issues, which were thought to be solved in late May as part of the recent CBA and NHL Return to Play agreement. Initially, the NHLPA agreed to a 20% escrow (which was expected to go exclusively to the owners) and a 13% salary deferral. The salary cap is to remain flat until the NHLPA repays the economic losses of last season and this coming season to NHL owners.
However, in recent weeks, the NHL owners through NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, have sought to revise those terms and asked for an additional 13% deferral, upping the deferred salaries to 26%. PittsburghHockeyNow and the Hockey Now network confirmed the additional deferral request.
Reportedly, owners also asked to raise the escrow to 25%. Bettman said it was incorrect or “inaccurate” to say the NHL sought to renegotiate the new CBA. Though, he admitted the league was seeking to revise the terms.
“If we have to pay out lots of cash — two-thirds of which is going to come back to us — that will cause some stresses, but we can, or we will have to deal with it if we’re going to move forward,” Bettman told the Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers in Sport panel.
VHN and the Hockey Now network will have more in the coming days, including a near guarantee from a league executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, that there would be a season.
As far as the January 15 start date, I have thoughts on that in my podcast here – please subscribe for fresh hockey content two to three times per week!
We will have more details on the potential NHL Return in the coming hours and days.
Josh Ho-Sang is Worth A Look For Vegas
This week, what might be one of the most drawn-out sagas in the NHL ended when the New York Islanders finally waived Josh Ho-Sang.
For those who may not know, Ho-Sang never seemed to really get his shot with the Islanders on a full-time basis. In limited NHL action with the Isles Ho-Sang was roughly a half-point-per-game player. In 53 NHL games spread across three seasons, Ho-Sang put up 7-17-24. Not bad numbers especially bouncing in and out of the lineup.
Now at 24, the Islanders have finally decided it’s time to part ways with Ho-Sang. The relationship dragged on a long time, and the Islanders seemed to like the idea of Ho-Sang but no idea how to actually apply him to the lineup. Now he’s free to find a deal of his own after clearing waivers.
The Vegas Golden Knights should call him.
One of the best parts about Ho-Sang’s game is that he has the potential to really pile up points. In the OHL he posted three straight 80+ point seasons. With the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2018-19, he had 43 points in 56 games. And we’ve already talked about him basically being a half-point-per-game guy at the NHL level.
Christian Arnold at NYIHockeyNow.com has this to say about Ho-Sang:
“Josh Ho-Sang has a lot of offensive talent. He has speed, puck handling ability and can put the puck in the net in dazzling fashion. Under the right tutelage, Ho-Sang could finally prove to the NHL what he’s believed about himself since the Islanders drafted him in 2014. ”
Ho-Sang makes an interesting addition to the Golden Knights because he could potentially make a third line with Alex Tuch and Cody Glass incredibly dangerous. No disrespect to Nicholas Roy either, who could potentially make the same jump this season. Don’t forget that Roy is also capable of playing center if the need arises.
At this point you might be saying too many forwards spoil the stew. Normally I would agree with you – were we not in a pandemic. Dallas has pushed back the start of its season. The Columbus Blue Jackets have had to miss practice a few times and it won’t end there. We will see more teams hit by this. Ho-Sang could come at a manageable price enticed by the chance to make a really deep run on a talented team instead of being buried in the minors by the Islanders.
If he pans out and turns into a real playmaker at the NHL level, it would be an incredible bargain signing for the VGK. If he doesn’t quite pan out, it really doesn’t cost you much if anything at all. I predict that Ho-Sang will indeed become an impact player at this level with the right team. Vegas should look at every chance to make this team even more dangerous. This one doesn’t cost them anything but the time to pick up the phone.
Which Alex Tuch Shows Up This Season?
Last year was a Tale of Two Tuchs for the Vegas Golden Knights. The regular season Tuch battled injuries, inconsistent linemates and a lack of production. The playoff Tuch led the team in a few different offensive categories and was one of the better players in the return to play. Which story plays out this season for the VGK?
The Vegas Golden Knights made another deep playoff run this season, bowing in the Western Conference Final to the Dallas Stars. Although there was inconsistency up and down the lineup, Tuch was among those who stepped up. He scored eight goals, three of them game winners. Both of those numbers were good enough to lead the Golden Knights in the playoffs. His 12 points doubled his career playoff output. Not bad for a guy who is just 24 and also had a stellar 20-goal, 52-point season in 2018-19.
But then, there was the 2019-20 regular season. Coming off those career best numbers Tuch struggled. Big time. Outside of a nice four-game point streak at the start of December with four goals and seven points, the Syracuse, NY native was absent from the score sheet more often than not. In fact, after scoring a goal in the last game of that streak on December 5, Tuch would only score three more times in the next 28 games. Then Tuch got hurt, and a short time later everything went on pause.
Tuch’s first two seasons with the Golden Knights showed promise and improvement. There was nothing out of the ordinary with the advanced stats. It merely looked like a very good prospect developing into a very good NHL player. Expectations were high for last season for last season but not unwarranted. If Tuch took that next step forward, perhaps he’d blossom into a 30-goal scorer (or better).
It’s possible to say that the pressure of his new contract kicking in weighed on him. Or that teams were paying more attention to him than before after scoring 20 goals. But I truly believe there was one major and one abetting factor holding him back.
The abetting factor would be the injury issues he had last season. Tuch only appeared in 42 games, picking up a “lower body injury” (I hate these terms) on February 13 that ended his season. For those who missed it, it was a cringeworthy crash into the boards late in the third period of that game. Oddly enough he tanlged with current teammate and then-Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the collision. Tuch tried to come back a short time later but suffered a setback. Then the league went on pause giving him time to heal for the return to play.
I don’t have any major concerns on Tuch’s health moving forward, which is a very good thing. I’m sure VGK fans are breathing easier after his playoff performance as well. In fact, the pause took the pressure off many athletes feel to return and help the team. Instead, Tuch was able to focus on getting healthy this time. He’s still young and no doubt felt some pressure to justify that new contract by trying to play at less than 100 percent.
But injuries are only part of the equation.
The major factor is Tuch’s ever-changing supporting cast of linemates. Before the Mark Stone trade, he looked at home in the top six forward group and as mentioned was putting up good numbers. After being knocked down to the third unit through no fault of his own, Tuch struggled to find the consistency that made him such a threat. It’s understandable that occasionally injuries and streaks of play displace linemates. But this is a different situation.
Even head coach Peter DeBoer recognized that fact, saying before the return to play that he felt Tuch not being in the top six hurt his production. Injuries up and down the lineup didn’t help with the consistency for linemates. DeBoer also noted that he didn’t feel Tuch’s game had changed much, but some of the difference was situational.
One thing that will go a long way towards settling down the lines is figuring out the centers. Whether Cody Glass or Chandler Stephenson wins that second line spot where Paul Stastny used to skate, establishing chemistry in a shortened season is paramount. Getting Tuch comfortable with a center who can help create time and space for him is important.
If Stephenson does end up on the third line, reuniting with Nicholas Roy reforms a line that saw success and chemistry in a small sample size last year. DeBoer seemed to like that line coming out of summer camp before the bubble. As if on cue, Stephenson had to step up between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone early in the return when injuries hit.
Truth be told, Stephenson didn’t look out of place, and that’s exciting news if his level of play continues on the second or third line. It also makes sense to put him on a third line to see what Glass has to offer. Plus if the third line has to take some defensive matchup weight they could, although DeBoer noted Tuch is a “mismatch guy” for the VGK. Simply put, DeBoer feels if he can get Tuch on the ice against weaker opposition he should be primed to produce for the Golden Knights.
With the depth of skill up front for Vegas, I truly believe the only factors holding back Alex Tuch this season are comfort and line familiarity. If he can establish himself and his linemates early in camp, there’s no reason to believe the Alex Tuch that earned a seven-year, $4.75M per year deal won’t look like a massive bargain in the long run.
What If Vegas Had No COVID-eligible Goalies?
Last weekend in the pandemic era NFL, the Denver Broncos were left stranded without a quarterback after all four rostered QBs were ruled ineligible due to COVID-19 protocols. The Broncos started practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton who hadn’t taken meaningful snaps under center since his freshman year at Wake Forrest. Things were so bad they asked the league about signing two assistant coaches who played QB in college to the active roster. The league said no.
Previously the NFL said it wouldn’t postpone games due to COVID-19 roster eligibility issues. So predictably, the Broncos were smashed 31-3 by the New Orleans Saints.
What if this same pandemic scenario happened to the Vegas Golden Knights with goalies? Or even defensemen?
The question needs to be asked because players simply can’t roll in from the outside in a pandemic world and suit up. During the bubble, teams had a separate goaltender quarantine away from the team just in case. But that was a special circumstance made possible by the bubble setup. If the NHL does not bubble up for the regular season – which doesn’t seem likely – then what happens?
Let’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner are both ruled out for COVID reasons. We wouldn’t know that publicly but let’s say that’s the case. Now Oscar Dansk has to come in from either Henderson or come back from a Silver Knights road trip. Does he have to quarantine? For how many days? Will the league consider postponing games? How many games would it postpone, max? Because if the team’s goalies are wiped out we’re talking a week or two depending on how it goes with tests.
Will the league protect teams from blowout losses with a seventh defenseman in goal pads? And is the league (and you the fans) willing to accept that some teams might play 48 games while others might only get to 36 or fewer?
It’s a balancing act. If you want hockey, you’re going to have to accept these are not normal times and that some games would be considered better than none. Broncos fans are upset. But what do you want? Football or no football? It was a long shot to lose four quarterbacks, but it happened. So if you accept that there’s risk in playing games, these are the consequences.
It will be the same with hockey. Even if they go into the potential scenario of gathering into mini-bubbles for a week or two at a time, there’s still risk. And with travel it will be much harder to minimize the risk of infection. Look at football. Or baseball. The NHL and NBA were able to pull it off because they didn’t break the bubble. You will not have that sealed environment this time.
Certainly teams could have the option of keeping a player back and away from the team. Let’s say you sign one of the free agent floaters out there like Jimmy Howard. You’re paying him to stay healthy and in relative game shape. You’re only breaking the glass in case of emergency. But not every team could or would employ that player. Money is tighter than ever and even league minimum makes a difference.
The possibility exists that a team could miss three games in a week if both goalies get sick. Or what if it runs through the room and takes out four D and six forwards? Then what? Perhaps you could dress the Silver Knights roster and accept your losses after they clear quarantine, but not before.
Considering all the options, the most fair and balanced plan is to cancel or postpone games. We must accept not every team will finish with the same number of games played. Some teams will frankly be screwed by this. Some will benefit. The bottom line is do you want to play games or not?
Until we are out of the woods on this pandemic, we can accept that things are different and adapt or fold the tent. The next few weeks will be extremely telling for the league and its players.