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Gary Bettman says league has discussed 4-arena plan, draft before season ends – ESPN

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed a potential four-arena plan for a season restart, a draft held before the season is completed and fans returning to games during a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet on Wednesday.

“Anything we’re considering doing starts with health and well-being, whether it’s the players or other personnel or fans or the community at large. Everybody is going through a tough time,” Bettman told Ron MacLean on “In Conversation.” “We’re hopeful that by doing the right things in the short term that we’re able to come back and hopefully complete this season on some basis that is fair and has integrity.”

Among the topics addressed by Bettman:

• Bettman confirmed that the NHL is looking at a four-city plan to restart the 2019-20 season, which was paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said these NHL arenas, which “won’t necessarily be divisionally based,” can be anywhere that “isn’t a hot spot” and has what the league requires in terms of both the arena and the practice facilities.

The plan would be to play three games per day.

Sources have told ESPN that the home rinks of the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild are early favorites for those sites. Bettman said the decisions on sites “presumes there wouldn’t be fans in the building,” rather than making decisions based on capacity.

• When asked about fans returning to NHL arenas and whether that’s tied to the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, Bettman said that is something the “medical people and the government leaders” will tell the league.

“I’ve seen a lot of polling on that. I think there’ll be some social distancing for a while. I think there’ll be masks, Purell, lots of things,” he said.

• As reported by ESPN earlier Wednesday, the NHL is no longer looking into playing at neutral-site venues such as on college campuses or smaller arenas, due to a lack of facilities for players, staff and broadcast partners.

• Bettman said the league has discussed the possibility of a June NHL draft with its general managers, potentially holding the event before the completion of the season.

“It was a trial balloon. No decision has been made,” he said. “But as I said when we were getting feedback, we don’t live in a world of perfect anymore. We’re going to have to make adjustments. Ideally from our standpoint would be if we can complete the regular season, even if it’s on a centralized basis, and then go into the playoffs that we normally play.”

Bettman added that mechanisms could be put in place to, for example, prevent the same team from winning the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup if the playoffs are expanded.

• Bettman said that if the playoffs are canceled, the league could owe its television partners “credits against next season” because the bulk of the TV revenue is from the postseason. When it comes to the revenue gap between players and owners this season, Bettman said the system will work it out.

“I don’t want to get into the specific numbers. The fact is that we have a system that made the game healthy, that has paid the players more than before the system was in place and has made our game more competitive than it’s ever been,” he said. “The system works, in good times and in difficult times.”

• Bettman said he has been in contact with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, but the NHL’s plan to restart its season is in no way tied to anything the NBA is planning, especially given that the preparation for hockey players ahead of a season restart is very different than that of NBA players.

“We don’t want the players playing games that matter until they’re in game shape,” Bettman said. “The fact is that none of our guys have been on skates, and we have to make sure that they’re in game-ready condition.”

Bettman reiterated that players will need to have a training camp before returning to games.

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At least two CFL teams unsure about playing games in 2020: report – 3downnation.com

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It appears that not all nine CFL teams are in agreement regarding the 2020 season.

Sportsnet’s Arash Madani reported on Thursday afternoon that at least two privately-owned teams are unsure about playing a shortened season.

Playing games would allow the league to draw revenue from its television contract, but it remains unclear if fans will be able to attend games. Paying player salaries and travel expenses without gate revenue could lead to big losses for private owners, which could explain why some teams may prefer not to play a shortened season.

Madani also reported that all three community-owned teams — Edmonton, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg — are in favour of playing a shortened season.

CFL chief financial officer and head of football operations Greg Dick believes a decision regarding the 2020 season must be made by August. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie hasn’t specified a timeframe, though he told TSN 1290 that the “drop dead date” is his to decide. He has also stated that the earliest games could be played is September.

The league recently allowed teams to reopen their training facilities, though there are a number of restrictions in place regarding usage.

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A statistical look at the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets play-in series – TSN

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The National Hockey League’s Return to Play format is official, and assuming all goes to plan, we are about six weeks away from watching hockey once again.

The new format – in the event you live under a rock – will feature 24 teams in total, and will open up with a 16-team qualifying round. The opening best-of-five series offers new life to eight teams that were below the original playoff cutline, and should create waves of excitement for eager sports fans.

With such a significant layoff, there will be ample questions about preparedness for every team. But the good news is with 70 or so regular-season games logged, we do have a rather strong understanding of each team’s strengths and weaknesses.

To shake off the rust here, I will preview each qualifying round series over the next few weeks. Today we will start in the Eastern Conference, with the eight seed Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the nine seed Columbus Blue Jackets.

Regular Season Performance

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One of the things that I think makes a Toronto-Columbus matchup so intriguing is that the teams are polar opposites.

The Maple Leafs are a high-flying offensive team with loads of superstar talent up front, and carried one of the league’s more prolific offences through the regular season. Toronto’s 3.4 goals per game was actually third in the league, trailing only Tampa Bay (3.5) and Washington (3.4). Despite the wondrous offensive production, Toronto is still just an eighth seed – in large part because only five teams gave up more goals per game (3.2). Elite offensive team, shaky defensive team

The Blue Jackets live on the other end of the spectrum. Their 2.6 goals against per game was fourth best in the league – a surprisingly strong performance considering the exodus of talent from Columbus last summer. In many ways, it’s a classic John Tortorella team: incredibly disciplined in the defensive zone, with five-man units that show very capable in pushing opposing forwards well into the perimeter.

It’s also a classic Tortorella team because scoring was a problem all season long. 5-on-5 scoring and power-play production – which has been an area of concern for a few years now in Columbus – are ineffective, in large part because the team cannot create offence from the low slot:

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Skater Overview (Goals Above Replacement)

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There is no doubt that Toronto’s Auston Matthews is the best skater heading into this series. Matthews’ fourth professional season was absolutely electric, with 47 goals and 33 assists in 70 games played. The season stoppage ultimately barred him from chasing down the Rocket Richard Trophy, finishing just one marker back of Boston’s David Pastrnak and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.

What differentiates Matthews from a number of other prolific scorers in Toronto is that the Maple Leafs showed a semblance of defensive competency with him on the ice. Toronto was a full goal better than its opponents for every 60 minutes of even-strength play with Matthews on the ice – a number that compares to the likes of Mark Stone and Evgeni Malkin.

Consider some of the other Leafs attackers, and you have a very different story. Mitchell Marner (+0.0 goals per 60 minutes), Kasperi Kapanen (-0.2 goals per 60 minutes), and John Tavares (-0.4 goals per-60 minutes) are just a handful of examples of productive offensive players who traded off those goals because of leaky defensive play behind them.

Matthews isn’t the only player in the series to drive such an impressive on-ice goal differential, though. Oliver Bjorkstrand – the 25-year-old Columbus forward in the midst of his own breakout season – also finished a goal better than his opponents per 60 minutes, coming into his own with linemates Gustav Nyquist and Pierre-Luc Dubois.

But the story of Columbus ultimately centers on their blueline. The team’s top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has become one of the most formidable defensive duos in the league, and Toronto’s top-six forwards are going to see an ample amount of both in this series.

The Jones/Werenski pairing is strong on both sides of the ice, and over the years it has led to some incredible goal rates. By season:

– 2016-17: +9 goals

– 2017-18: +16 goals

– 2018-19: -10 goals

– 2019-20: +14 goals

For Toronto to prevail in this series, neutralizing Columbus’ best units – anchored by the Jones/Werenski pairing – will be critical.

Goaltender Overview (Goals Saved Above Average)

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The questions about how porous the Maple Leafs defence has been this season has been quite tough to answer, if only because the goaltending has been comparatively abysmal. For every scoring chance where the blueline left a Toronto goalie out to dry, you had another lifeless shot from the point that somehow found its way in the back of the net.

Frederik Andersen did improve as the season progressed, and the acquisition of Jack Campbell from Los Angeles did prove to be a major upgrade over Michael Hutchinson. Andersen will be the guy in this series, but it’s probably fair to say he doesn’t have the longest leash of goalies in the qualifying round.

In Columbus, Tortorella had tough decisions to make in the post-Sergei Bobrovsky world. His tandem of Elvis Merzlikins (33 games) and Joonas Korpisalo (37 games) proved more than capable, and were one of the biggest reasons the Blue Jackets stayed in the hunt this season.

But in a short series, the value of a rotational goaltender system is diminished – Tortorella ultimately has to pick one. The games played edge would seemingly give it to Korpisalo, but on performance, Merzlikins was a definitively better goalie. I would be surprised if the Latvian isn’t given the Game 1 start.

Prediction

If anyone is still counting out Columbus after last season’s unbelievable sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, they are foolish. This is a strong, defensively disciplined team that’s going to scratch and claw for every inch of the ice.

But this Toronto lineup just has too much firepower in the forward ranks, and there are serious concerns about where the scoring will come from on the Columbus side.

The pick is Toronto in five.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com

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Oilers' McDavid, Nurse size up new playoff format ahead of potential Hawks clash – CBC.ca

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During his downtime in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Darnell Nurse tuned into the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance for a dose of inspiration.

The Edmonton Oilers rearguard plans to draw on motivational lessons from Air Jordan in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I think that’s the perfect example — to see his mindset in a lot of those games – of creating your own environment, creating your own fire,” Nurse said Thursday on a virtual news conference conducted via Zoom.

“That’s a test that everyone in this situation is going to have to go through, having the ability to create your own excitement.”

WATCH | Nurse remains motivated by opportunity to win Stanley Cup:

Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse says even though they will be competing in an empty arena, the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup should be enough to motivate players. 1:08

There will be no crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The seats, empty. The energy in the building, absent.

“Yeah, there’s no fans there,” Nurse said. “And yeah, you might be in a hub city. But there’s an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. I think that should be enough motivation to get anyone going.

“There’s a lot of challenges. There are a lot of things that aren’t ideal that come along with this situation. But that’s the world. The world is in that position right now. So the Stanley Cup is all the fire you should need.”

On Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league and NHLPA agreed to a return-to-play format, which concludes the remainder of the regular season and begins a 24-team playoff plan.

The new plan would see the top-4 clubs in the Eastern and Western Conference play two abbreviated round-robin tournaments to determine playoff seeding.

The other eight teams in each conference would play a best-of-five ‘play-in’ series — No. 5 versus No. 12, No. 6 versus No. 11, No. 7 versus No. 10, and No. 8 versus No. 9 — to determine the 16 clubs left standing for the playoffs.

WATCH | 2-minute recap of Bettman’s press conference:

Commissioner Bettman outlined the NHL’s 24-team playoff format, and the draft lottery. 2:11

If fans were allowed in the building in Edmonton, Chicago forward Patrick Kane would have no doubt experienced the wrath of the Oiler faithful given the carnage inflicted over the years.

Through 43 career games against the Oilers, Kane has 56 points. And in the post-season against any club, Kane is a certified gamer with 123 points in 127 career appearances and a Conn Smythe Trophy to boot.

The Chicago faithful have reason to hope for an upset — if Kane can keep up the torrid scoring pace and the rest of the Blackhawks can somehow limit the damage inflicted by Leon Draisaitl and captain Connor McDavid.

Holland approves of format

“I’m happy it’s a best-of-five,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. “There might be a little bit of rust in the first game or two, but over the course of a five-game series it’s an opportunity to — if you get off to a sluggish start — get back in the series.

“If you have a bad first game, you’ve still got to lose two more versus how quickly a best-of-three can go.”

In spite of the Kane factor, the Oilers (37-25-9) will enter the series — whenever it happens — as the undeniable favourites against the Blackhawks (32-30-8).

On Thursday, McDavid, who was part of the NHL/NHLPA’s Return to Play Committee, and Nurse addressed the merit of the 24-team format and whether a hub city approach would provide an advantage for the hometown franchise among other topics.

WATCH | McDavid, Nurse discuss polarizing return-to-play format:

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who was part of the NHL/NHLPA’s Return to Play Committee, and his teammate Darnell Nurse discuss the creation of the NHL’s 24-team playoff plan. 1:57

The Oilers led the league in power-play efficiency at a whopping 29.5 per cent, and now they have the services of a healthy Mike Green as the quarterback on the point.

As for the penalty kill, they ranked second behind only San Jose at 84.4 per cent.

“We’ve had that same power play for probably two years now, and that helps a lot,” McDavid said. “We’ve had a lot of success on specialty teams, and we’ll probably need to be a little bit better five-on-five.”

Draisaitl a driving force

The difference maker could well be Draisaitl, the 2019/20 Art Ross Trophy winner with 43 goals and 67 assists for 110 points in 71 appearances. The 6-foot-2, 208-pounder is a beast to move off the puck and one of the best pure passers in the league.

During Thursday’s conference, a reporter from Germany asked McDavid how he benefits from playing with Draisaitl.

“He gives me nice passes, so that definitely helps me out,” McDavid said. “A lot was made of us playing together or not playing together, and that gives our team a different look.”

After Christmas, head coach Dave Tippett assigned McDavid and Draisaitl their own lines, and the Oilers became way more challenging to defend with the scoring spread around.

“As a general manager, and if you’re a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, we’re very fortunate to have two great players who are 23 and 24 years of age and, really, probably just coming into their prime years as athletes,” Holland said. “They’ve been versatile. Obviously, Leon can move to the left wing and we can play them together as a line.”

And when that happens — even minus fans in the building — the atmosphere will no doubt be electric.

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