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Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets Qualifying Round debated

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The Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets will play each other in the best-of-5 Qualifying Round when the NHL season resumes. Though there is no date for the games to start, two NHL.com writers have already started the debate over which team has the edge in the series.

Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

I love this matchup. It’s a gifted offensive bunch in Toronto desperate to get over the hump against a Columbus group that thrives on defying the odds. But I’m in the camp that believes the Maple Leafs will find a way here, led by their captain, John Tavares, who has raised his game with high stakes in the past. Mitchell Marner has committed himself to becoming a solid two-way forward, and defenseman Morgan Rielly will eat a lot of minutes. It’ll all be anchored by goalie Frederik Andersen, who has shown flashes of brilliance in the postseason. I think Toronto wins this series.

Nick Cotsonika, columnist

Sure, the Maple Leafs are the easy pick. But the Tampa Bay Lightning were the easy pick last season when they were one of the best regular-season teams in NHL history, and the Blue Jackets swept them in the first round. And while lots of people thought the Blue Jackets would fade this season after losing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene in free agency, they were tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus — despite having lost 419 man games to injury, the most in the NHL. The pause benefitted Columbus perhaps more than any other team, giving several players time to heal. Oh, and how many playoff series have the Maple Leafs won during the past 14 seasons? Even the Blue Jackets, whose defeat of the Lightning was their first series win ever, have won more.

 

Compton

I can’t say enough about the job coach John Tortorella has done with the Blue Jackets this season and, like most teams, they’ll be completely healthy when games resume. And yes, the lack of postseason success the Maple Leafs have endured essentially since their last Stanley Cup championship in 1967 is well-known by all, especially Tavares, who grew up in the hockey hub. Even if he has to carry the Maple Leafs past the Blue Jackets (which I don’t necessarily think will be the case), so be it.

Cotsonika

You’re right about Tortorella. Perhaps no coach does a better job of rallying the troops with an us-against-the-world attitude, and that’s going to be huge considering all the challenges on and off the ice. A couple of other factors in favor of the Blue Jackets: It’s not just that they upset the Lightning last season. It’s that the Lightning are somewhat similar in style to the Maple Leafs, giving the Blue Jackets a blueprint and confidence as they try to do it again. This will be a best-of-5 series, not best-of-7. When you have to win three games instead of four, that introduces more randomness and a better chance for the underdog.

Source: NHL.com

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Edited By Harry Miller

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Calgary Flames' Travis Hamonic first to opt out of NHL restart – ESPN

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Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic became the first NHL player to opt out of this summer’s restart.

Calgary GM Brad Treliving announced Hamonic’s decision Friday night, just hours after the NHL and NHLPA officially agreed to move forward with a 24-team tournament, scheduled to begin Aug. 1.

“Earlier this evening Travis called me to inform us that he has decided to opt out of the NHL return to play program,” Treliving said in a statement. “Travis explained that due to family considerations, he has made the difficult decision not to participate in the Stanley Cup qualifier and playoffs. While we will miss Travis in our lineup, we understand and respect his decision. Our focus remains on preparation for training camp and our upcoming series in the NHL qualifying round.”

In a statement posted to Twitter by Hamonic’s representatives, he said he was opting out over concern for his daughter, who was hospitalized in 2019 because of a respiratory illness when she was 8 months old.

Players have until Monday to inform their teams if they are opting out. As part of the NHL and NHLPA’s agreements, players will not be punished if they choose not to play this summer, and they do not need to cite a specific reason.

Hamonic, 29, played in only 50 of the team’s 70 games this season and was on injured reserve because of an upper body injury when the NHL paused play on March 12. Hamonic is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent this fall.

Hamonic is a 10-year NHL veteran, and he played his first seven seasons with the New York Islanders.

The Flames will face the Winnipeg Jets in the qualification round, which is a best-of-five series. The Western Conference games will be held in Edmonton, Alberta.

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NHL, players ratify Return to Play Plan, six-year CBA amid COVID-19 uncertainties – TSN

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Game on.

Well, almost.

The NHL Players’ Association and the NHL’s Board of Governors voted overwhelmingly on Friday to ratify a sweeping agreement that includes a six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement and a Return to Play Plan that brings hockey back after a historic, 142-day pause.

According to sources, the NHLPA’s full membership voted 502 to 135 with 78.8 per cent in favour, while the league’s vote was unanimous, as expected. Both only required simple majorities to pass.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman lauded the stakeholders involved “for coming together under extraordinary circumstances for the good of our game.”

“This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in a statement.

Now, after months of heavy lifting with two sides hammering out the game’s first peace-time labour agreement in three-plus decades, the NHL’s real dance on thin ice begins.

The NHL’s owners have said ‘yes.’ The NHL’s players have said ‘yes.’ Now, they only need the cooperation of a virus that has claimed the lives of more than a half million people worldwide over the past six months.

Yes, the road back to the rink is one paved in peril, but the lure of hockey’s holy grail and more than a 100 years of history is on the other side.

The NHL and NHLPA must safely navigate the arrival of 744 players and hundreds of staffers in two secure ‘bubbles’ in Toronto and Edmonton and avoid a mass-outbreak of COVID-19 in order to drop the puck in three weeks from Saturday on Aug. 1.

Once settled inside, the NHL is confident its strict protocol will minimize the risk of an outbreak in an effort to award the Stanley Cup by Oct. 4 in Edmonton. Every player and every person – from team staff to hotel housekeepers – who has a chance of coming in contact with a player will be tested daily. Any positive test will require isolation and contact tracing. The NHL says it can manage individual or multiple isolated positive tests, but it has not defined what it would take to put play on pause again or put a pin in the bubble, either due to health risks or the integrity of the game.

“While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities,” Bettman said Friday.

Cautiously make it through training camp. Then into the bubble without many flare-ups.

Then Giddy Up.

What awaits is March Madness on steroids. The blood-and-guts intensity of the Stanley Cup playoffs, for 14 hours a day, for nine days straight. And then the first round begins. 

To start, it will be games from 12 noon well past midnight in the East – or longer with the delirious joy of playoff overtimes.

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The NHL’s top eight teams will battle each other in round-robin games for seeding, while the other 16 teams will fight in a best-of-five to see who survives to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then a traditional, 16-team playoff with four rounds decided by best-of-seven, will take over as planned.

Everyone, even the losing teams, have something to look forward to in the qualifying round.

Every player in the hubs will have the day off on Aug. 10, when the Draft Lottery is scheduled to take centre stage. The eight teams that fail to qualify for the playoffs will go home with an equal 12.5 per cent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and Alexis Lafreniere.

With Oct. 4 scheduled as the last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final, the 2020 NHL Draft is tentatively slated for Oct. 9-10 and will likely be held virtually.

Until then, with the only travel scheduled for when the Toronto hub victors shift to Edmonton by Sept. 8 to begin the Conference Finals, the NHL plans to zoom through each round as quickly as possible in order to minimize time spent in the bubble.

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There will be sacrifice for all involved. Players advancing will go a minimum of five weeks away from their families before they are permitted to enter the bubble during the Conference Finals. The hundreds of staffers and officials will not have the same opportunity.

The motivation to complete the 2019-20 season in the face of a pandemic is undoubtedly driven by business. More than $400 million USD is at stake in a two-month tournament, plus the priceless tradition of carrying on the Stanley Cup.

The NHL and its players have faced the grim financial reality that remains. The new six-year CBA, which guarantees labour peace through at least 2025-26, is not a rosy one for the players. It’s akin to an adjustable rate mortgage – with the players paying back the owners a nine-figure promissory note – with the resulting escrow cap serving as the interest rate.

During that time, the players’ house won’t appreciate much in value because there is little room for growth with a relatively frozen salary cap for much of the next four or five seasons. Only the NHL’s best and brightest stars won’t feel the cap crunch coming.

The trouble for the players – and really the hawk owners who wanted the entire amount owing from players to be paid back now on the spot – was that there wasn’t much of a viable alternative.

That meant Friday, even with more than a fifth of the NHL’s players expressing their dissatisfaction, was the next in a series of critical (if not plodding) steps forward to get the game going again.

Some 368 days after the season started, Lord Stanley’s chalice awaits now – if COVID can cooperate.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli

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Flames prepare for ‘tall task’ with return-to-play plan finalized – Sportsnet.ca

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At the tail end of an historic day for the NHL, Brad Treliving best summed up the relief capping off four months of unknowns.

“I like Zoom, and Zoom has been good in terms of keeping everyone in touch, but… Uncle,” said the Calgary Flames GM, whose weekly online fellowship gatherings with local media types were the envy of scribes league-wide.

“Let’s get going. Monday can’t come fast enough.”

Press releases late Friday confirmed the NHLPA and NHL have officially agreed to a return-to-play plan as well as a four-year CBA extension that makes the league the envy of its sporting brethren.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

With just three days of lead time before 24 teams will open for almost two weeks of training camps, the league has set the stage for what might end up being the most intriguing playoff format in the game’s modern history.

For the Calgary Flames, that means an Aug. 1 start for a best-of-five “qualifying round” showdown with the Winnipeg Jets that could be over in as little as four days.

That’s the type of urgency required moving forward.

“Whether you have three games in four nights, a best-of-five goes quick no matter how you play it,” said Treliving, whose club is slated to play the 8 p.m. game in Edmonton Aug. 1, 3 and 4 against a Jets team they lost to 2-1 in overtime outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

“It’s going to be important how you start. Having a good camp and being prepared is crucial.”

Realizing it will all come down to balancing hard work in camp while ensuring you don’t fatigue anyone, Treliving said the coaching plan was developed back in April in anticipation of Monday’s restart.

“We don’t have a lot of time, but it’s still three weeks away, so we’re not panicking,” said Treliving, admittedly unsure who or when his team will play its one exhibition game in Edmonton after moving there July 26.

“You want to be careful to make sure you get the work in but not burn everybody out in seven days. The group has been looking after themselves and skating before they got there. They’ve been going at it pretty good, from what I understand.”

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

All told, 31 players from each team will be allowed to head into the league-devised bubble in Edmonton late this month for one exhibition game before the real bullets start flying against a team with just as many offensive threats as the Flames. They’ll be joined by 21 people who will make up the support staff who will also be tested daily as part of the league’s thorough approach to a return-to-play setup many thought wouldn’t come to fruition.

Between now and August the Flames may have to deal with everything from positive tests to players who have the right to opt out before Monday, citing safety concerns.

To date, Treliving says he hasn’t heard from any players who may choose to watch from the sidelines.

“I have not, but now that it’s done we’ll see,” said Treliving, who added that all his players are in town, “present and accounted for.”

“Nobody tipped their hand.”

Games four and five, if necessary, are slated for Aug. 6 and 8, meaning either the eighth-ranked Flames or ninth-ranked Jets will be eliminated and in line for a 12.5 per cent chance at top-ranked junior star Alexis Lafreniere in the draft lottery soon thereafter.

That’s pressure.

“That’s a really good team that we’re playing – a team that went through some changes this year but was in the West final two years ago,” said Treliving. “There are no holes over there. They have a goalie (Connor Hellebuyck) who may win the Vezina Trophy in net, a defence with a lot of talent on it and, well, pick your poison up front. It’s a tall, tall task.”

A monumental task for a Flames team that has a history of playoff shortcomings, as well as a penchant for slow starts.

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On the weekend the team will announce its training camp schedule to be held at the Saddledome, where a small number of mask-wearing journalists will be high up in the stands, observing the lads for the first time since the March 12 pause.

No face-to-face interviews will be allowed at any time through camp or the playoffs. A small number of scribes will be allowed to watch playoff games from the press box in Edmonton, but will not be allowed to breach the NHL’s bubble by watching practices once the league convenes in Edmonton.

With players available by phone or Zoom post-practice starting Monday, plenty of storylines will unfold.

The Flames are still seeking a league ruling on whether recent hotshot collegiate signing Connor Mackey will be able to continue skating with the club, even though his contract doesn’t kick in until next season.

But on Friday the story was simple – the league celebrated an historic day by officially overcoming two massive hurdles.

“It’s a great day that everything has been finalized,” said Treliving. “To me, the league and the Players’ Association deserve a tremendous amount of credit.

“We’re all living in this environment, and know how difficult it is, and to get a return-to-play plan and to get a CBA done during a pandemic, it’s unbelievable. The ability to find common ground… I just think Gary (Bettman) and Bill (Daly) and league leadership and the PA deserve so much credit. You’re talking about two monumental tasks, and they did it at a time when things change from Monday to Tuesday. It’s a Herculean effort.”

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