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Adam Silver: ‘The data, not the date’ will determine NBA’s return to action –



The NBA was the first of the major sports leagues in North America to shut down in the face of COVID-19. More than a month later, they are no closer to knowing when they might return to action.

Pledging that it’s about “the data, not the date,” commissioner Adam Silver said the league can only gather information and wait on a Friday evening conference call which follows a regularly-scheduled board of governors meeting — one that would have normally taken place on the eve of the NBA playoffs.

“We all have to accept that we’re operating with incomplete facts here,” said Silver. “There is an enormous amount about the virus that is yet to be learned.”

He added: “We are not in any position to make a decision [about returning to play] and it’s not clear when we will be.”

Silver acknowledged that while “there is great symbolism around sports in [the United States] and to the extent that we do find a path back it will be very meaningful for Americans … we’re not at the point where we can say if [conditions] A, B, and C are met, then there is a clear path.

“There is still too much uncertainty at this point to say how precisely we move forward. The underlying principal remains the health and safety of NBA players and everyone involved, we begin with that as paramount and the decision tree moves forward from there”

Silver said the league would be monitoring the rate of infections, the availability of wide-scale testing, the progress of potential vaccines and the potential anti-viral medications as part of any return-to-play decision, however distant.

“There is a lot of data,” he said.

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According to previous reports, the expectation is that teams and players would need about 25 days to get ready for any return and the league has been considering scenarios where the 2019-20 season is extended into July and August.

But Silver said any talk that the NBA could return to play without fans in a single, quarantined location such as at Las Vegas casino — the so-called “bubble-concept” — is premature.

“Many [ideas] have been proposed and we’ve only listened,” said Silver, who stressed that any return to play would have to preceded by assurances that front-line healthcare workers were properly cared for in terms of testing and PPE. “We’re not seriously engaged yet in that type of environment, because I can’t answer what precisely we would need to see to feel that environment provided the health and safety we would need to see for our players and everyone involved.

“As I sit here today there is too much unknown to set a timeline, there is too much unknown to say ‘these are the precise variables’ … we’re not in a position to know more at this point.”

Silver said that the NBA and their owners are eager to return to play this season but with significant caveats.

“My sense of NBA team owners is that, if they can be part of the movement to restart our economy, that includes the NBA. They almost see that as a civic obligation,” he said. “… But when dealing with human life, that trumps anything else we can possibly talk about. That’s sort of where the conversations began and ended today.”

Silver also confirmed an early report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that the league and NBA Players Association have agreed on a mechanism to withhold money from the players should games end up being cancelled due to COVID-19.

Players will be paid in full on May 1 but will have their cheques trimmed by 25 per cent — according to a formula within the CBA — beginning on May 15th with salary reductions extending into the first two months of the 2020-21 season.

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The NBA and the players share basketball-related income on a roughly 51-49 split in favour of the players. To allow room for any adjustments, players already have 10 per cent of their salary — about $380 million total — held in escrow in case revenues fall short of projections. As long as revenues meet expectations, the players receive the money held in escrow at the end of the fiscal year.

But with the league having halted operations, it is anticipated that revenues will fall short of even the 10 per cent held in escrow. By reducing salaries now the league won’t have to chase players for money after the fact and any potential loss of income for the players will be introduced on a gradual basis.

The CBA has a never-before-used “force majeure” provision that allows owners to claw back salaries due to revenue losses stemming from “unforeseeable circumstances.” It is automatically triggered once games are officially cancelled due to things like epidemics, pandemics or government order.

According to the Associated Press, the CBA stipulates that players lose approximately 1.09 per cent of salary per canceled game, based on the force majeure provision. Given that there are 259 regular-season games left to be played, if they are cancelled players would stand to lose about $800-million in gross salary.

Once there is a cancellation of games, the force majeure is automatically triggered under the language of the CBA.

The NBA was the first of the major professional sports league to shut down a decision that came in the wake of a positive test for Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert on March 11.

In earlier statements, Silver has said that he wouldn’t provide any guidance on next steps for the league until May 1 given the uncertainty of the landscape.

He said Friday that his outlook hasn’t changed and that there was no guarantee that there would be any clear guidelines to offer at that point either.

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NHL teams eliminated from 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs free to make trades – Fear the Fin



There’s still some doubt that the NHL’s 24-team playoff format will have enough time to play out, especially with the news today that training camps — Phase 3 of the league’s Return to Play Plan — would not begin before July 10, more than six weeks from now. But for seven teams (the Sharks included), there’s nothing left of the season whether the league returns to complete playoffs or not.

Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, Buffalo, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose are now free to make trades with each other, a league source confirmed to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic.

Though it may have been a larger and more diverse pool of teams eliminated, this is hardly different than the usual practice of allowing teams who do not qualify for playoffs to begin trading with each other once the regular season ends in April — though it’s not super common and generally the trades involve depth players. Mostly, the eliminated teams get a two-month head-start on setting price in the market before the draft.

But with the nebulous future of the season — despite being largely unaffected by the decision-making until it concerns the 2020-21 season — teams will probably be reluctant to pull the trigger. Salary cap uncertainty plays a roll, as well. With the cap unlikely to budge, it doesn’t seem advantageous to makes moves too quickly.

The other consideration is that the three California teams make up half of the available market and are unlikely to trade with each other. Notably, Doug Wilson went through the Boston Bruins to acquire Martin Jones from the Los Angeles Kings, a trade we all liked at the time and a reminder that no take can escape the bitter coldness of having aged.

Another player is the Ottawa Senators, and it might break Pierre Dorion’s brain if Doug Wilson swindles him a third time, so the market is pretty bare. If anything, the Buffalo Sabres organization appears to be having a difficult time right now and we’re living through a global pandemic, so anything is possible.

Ultimately, these seven teams didn’t make playoffs because they have incredible rosters, which is why this time typically only sees depth trades. If anything does pick up, I can’t imagine it would be before the play-in round for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happens, which might still be a matter of months.

Right now will likely involve a lot of talks that go nowhere and collegiate/European free agent signings. The most important head-start will be the extra resources and time available to focus on scouting and strategy for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

That said, Doug Wilson has also been known to scoop a good depth player, so if he wants to start working the phones, I’m good with that, too. I bet he could pay off the Red Wings to liberate one of the good prospects from the Kings. Just something to consider if you’re reading this, Doug.

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Sabres' Krueger on Eichel: 'I like the anger' – TSN



Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said Friday he has no problem with captain Jack Eichel voicing his frustrations, but he hopes to use it in a constructive way.

“I like the anger,” Krueger said of Eichel’s comments. “I have no problem with people outing frustration on the past. But then let’s move that conversation forward, real quick, and let’s figure out what we’re going to do about it.”

Eichel said on Thursday that he was “fed up” with losing, two days it was announced the Sabres would be one of the seven teams not to qualify under the NHL’s Return to Play 24-team playoff format.

“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” Eichel said during a conference call with media. “You know, it’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years with where things have [gone]. I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I’m on the ice. I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season.”

The Sabres have missed out on the postseason in all five years of Eichel’s career and nine straight in total. The 23-year-old finished with a career-high 36 goals and 42 assists in 68 games this season, Krueger’s first with the team.

On Thursday, Eichel credited his continued development to Krueger, the third coach he has had in his short career.

“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not getting frustrated with where things are going and I think we took a step this year, but I will say it’s been a pleasure working with Ralph,” Eichel said. “He does so much for our group every day. There are tough times and he does an amazing job of…narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be mentally. And just the few times that I’ve spoken with him, you know, throughout this quarantine, whatever you want to call it, it’s been good.”

Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen also credited Krueger for helping him improve this season on Thursday, but noted that he could be traded if the team elects to make changes this off-season. Krueger, however, said Friday does not want to see the 25-year-old moved.

“I want to coach Risto next season,” Krueger said. “I would enjoy coaching Risto next season. … Risto was all-in.” 

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How NHL could transition from paused to handing out Stanley Cup –



“There’s no magic to starting in October,” Gary Bettman said this week, but there may be some found in finishing then.

For it looks increasingly like that’s when the commissioner will be handing over the Stanley Cup if health conditions allow the NHL to go ahead with a 24-team tournament to crown a champion at the end of its coronavirus-interrupted season.

Bettman was reluctant to attach specific dates to his league’s return-to-play plan after Tuesday’s unveiling and said anybody who did would be “guessing.”

So let’s stick with the known facts, as best we can, in sketching out how the NHL might transition from paused to completing the playoffs.

The earliest players will be required to report to their teams for training camp is July 10. That was communicated to them in a Thursday afternoon memo. While there’s no certainty the league will be ready to transition to Phase 3 at that point — camps could conceivably open later in the month instead — let’s use the best-case scenario as a baseline.

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Now the NHL is granting the players a fair bit of latitude in helping shape how the resumption unfolds, including final say on the length of training camps. The players on the “Return To Play Committee” have indicated a need for at least three weeks to get back in game shape, although there seems to be some flexibility on their part now that team facilities are expected to open late next week for small-group workouts.

Perhaps, with ice available to everyone for somewhere in the neighbourhood of five weeks before camps officially open, they won’t require as much time as initially thought.

“We really want it to be more on the cautious side than obviously kind of being aggressive,” said Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, one of five players serving on the ‘Return To Play Committee.’

“I really think we’re going to get a better sense … as we get into Phase 2: How guys are feeling, how long that phase is going to be, really what we’re going to need. It’s not an exact science.”

In sticking with an optimistic view, let’s say they end up needing two weeks on the ice together in their playing cities. That takes us to July 24. The next step will see teams travel to their hub cities to complete training camps and play two exhibition games apiece, which is expected to last another week.

Now we’re sitting at July 31.

How long the tournament itself takes to play is currently resting in the hands of the NHL Players’ Association as it decides on the remaining format issues. It could be completed in as few as 59 days if best-of-fives are used for Rounds 1 and 2 followed by best-of-sevens in the conference finals and Stanley Cup final.

An additional nine days are required to play four rounds of best-of-seven, like usual, following the best-of-five play-in series.

It’s not an easy choice given the concerns many players have about being separated from their families to complete the season. However, the signs seem to point to them electing to commit to the longer tournament to preserve the integrity of the Stanley Cup.

“I think anyone who gets their name on it wants to earn it like the players that did before them,” said Tavares. “I think the sense I got, and I think my own personal view, is it would be nice to play all four rounds of the playoffs as a best-of-7. As what we’re used to.”

Kris Letang, the NHLPA rep for the Pittsburgh Penguins, expressed a similar sentiment after discussing the matter with his teammates.

“One thing that comes up often is the fact that everybody is used to the best-of-7,” said Letang. “You know how it’s structured, you know how it feels if you lose the first two [games] or you win the first two. You kind of know all the scenarios that can go through a best-of-7.

“I don’t think there’s any players in this league right now that played back in the day in the best three-of-five. So I think it’s just an easier thing to just put a best-of-7 because everybody knows what to expect and you have no excuses of not being prepared for that.”

Should that end up being the case, a tournament starting Aug. 1 could see Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final played on Oct. 7.

And that’s assuming everything proceeds in a timely manner between then and now — far from a guarantee, despite the big strides already made by completing the playoff framework and getting a good handle on how the COVID-19 testing will be handled.

There’s still a lot of back and forthcoming on key issues that need to be negotiated between the league and players.

All of which points to one conclusion: If the NHL manages to complete this unusual 2019-20 season, it will have to do so more than a calendar year after it initially started.

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