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NHL contingency planning for a resumption of the 2019-2020 season – Pension Plan Puppets

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Thursday’s Insider Trading is awash with news:

After the NHL set up what Gary Bettman called a trial balloon over having the draft in June before a potential resumption of the season, the response hasn’t been all that positive, as reported by Pierre LeBrun. One team, one that doesn’t need to personally care about draft order, is on side, though:

Shanahan was one of many NHL people out speaking to some of these issues on Thursday. There were some players quoted discussing the overall concept of a resumption of play in what looked like a coordinated media blitz.

The idea of resuming the season this summer is something anyone can sit down with a calendar and work out for themselves. I did that Thursday morning, and I didn’t start with the “pie in the sky” timing that Insider Trading reports some team and league sources are considering — a May 15 date (also reported by the New York Post). I started mine a whole month later with the idea that by June 14, players could converge on their “home sites” and beginning either an isolation period of two weeks, or a training camp combined with isolation depending on the rules in place at that time for sizes of gatherings and incoming travellers.

My plan had a full regular season using the NHL’s theorized four divisional locations. That would require a reset of the schedule of who plays whom, but the idea is to get everyone to 82 games played, not necessarily re-create the existing schedule. Of note, LeBrun says the NHL is currently considering 12 cities, and is actively vetting them to pick four locations from.

Once the regular season is done, the playoffs can happen in a revised format in the four locations and my guestimate, depending on format, was the Stanley Cup could be awarded sometime in early September. You can shorten this timeline by playing less regular season games, shorter playoff rounds, or having fewer days off.

The NHL’s concept — which is just that, and not a schedule they know they can pull off — sounds basically what I thought up. The 2020-2021 season would start close to on time, and there is enough days after the Cup is lifted in an empty arena to fit in all the free agency, player trades and RFA business needed.

If it can be done safely, there’s time to do it.

But then what happens?

The word out of Germany today was that the Bundesliga will resume in early May if they get the final go-ahead from the government, but they are preparing to play in empty stadiums for a long time, perhaps into next year. Part of their motivation to play, even if they have to have no ticket sales, is that they have clubs facing insolvency. For a TV event like German football or the NHL, there is a financial motive to play if it’s safe. For ticket-driven leagues, the picture is more bleak.

As Bob McKenzie outlines, the CHL is considering a host of options, and has planned to have the Memorial Cup next year in June to allow for the OHL, WHL and QMJHL to start late, possibly as late as January. There is no bankroll to keep those teams going without ticket sales, and it’s not like they can cut player salaries to save money. Even for leagues where some teams have owners with deep pockets (the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, for example) the league as a whole hasn’t got enough money behind it to successfully play to empty rinks long term.

Approximately half of the AHL teams are independently owned, or owned in a partnership with NHL affiliates. While NHL teams want their prospects to play, the only way the NHL could go on if tickets can’t be sold is if the NHL collectively pays for it. They might. They could do it simply because most of the players are getting paid on NHL contracts anyway, so they might as well, but what about the ECHL? The NHL doesn’t need them, and the affiliated teams are not owned by the NHL teams. Most ECHL teams run on a budget that could see them insolvent as soon as the seasons tickets for next year don’t go on sale in a few weeks.

The professional minor-league sports model in North America is about to face a huge test, and some teams and entire leagues might not make it out the other side. Even the NHL and the wealthiest teams can’t float along forever with no revenue, and not all NHL teams are floating now. A TV-only NHL is … well it’s like living on EI instead of your old salary. It beats the alternative, but it sure puts a crimp in your spending.

No one knows when the fans will return to sports stadiums. No one knows when the athletes will return to play to empty seats, but the NHL is trying very hard to be ready the second it becomes possible to try to resume the season. A lot of livelihoods depend on it, and a lot of lives depend on it being safe. What matters is that every member of the janitorial staff right up to Connor McDavid are all safe, paid and happy to do their jobs. If that can happen, then the show will go on on a date to be named later.

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Maple Leafs' Tavares sees camp with Keefe as 'added bonus' of NHL's plan – Sportsnet.ca

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As the calendar creeps closer towards June and the tally nears four months without live hockey in North America, silver linings for Canada’s favourite game on ice have been hard to come by.

The NHL offered one earlier this week, with commissioner Gary Bettman unveiling the framework of the league’s four-phase plan to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic if it becomes safe to do so. But the multitudes contained in that “if” are still daunting. The novel coronavirus does not care when the NHL would like to come back, after all.

Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares knows how many hurdles remain, how many hairpin turns could send the league back to square one, but still believes there’s a “really good chance” hockey is played this summer. So leave it to Tavares, that even-keeled, blue-and-white wearing optimist, to look deeper into hockey’s foggy future and find another light hiding within, too.

“We’ve got to be looking forward to what’s ahead, an opportunity to kind of reset here,” Tavares told Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman during Sportsnet’s #Ask31 Live on Thursday. “[It will be] a good opportunity to get a training camp under [head coach Sheldon Keefe], which we never really got.

“So kind of a little almost added bonus is, with a new coach, you get to really implement a lot more things …and really get those true reps that you need. Which you really can’t get in the season, especially as the season goes on, and the wear and tear, and the rest becomes very valuable. I think that’s definitely a benefit we’re going to get.”

Coaching a team with Stanley Cup aspirations is never easy, and assuming the role mid-season as Keefe did adds another layer of complexities to the mix — implementing redesigned lineups and systems on the fly, all while knowing there’s less room for error because there are fewer games left to be played.

In the 39 games he’s spent guiding the Maple Leafs’ on-ice performance, Keefe has gone 27-15 while ushering in a more free-wheeling — albeit not always consistent — offence that made use of Toronto’s wealth of offensive talent and saw them score the fourth-most goals in the league during his tenure, while posting the second-best power-play success rate.

If that’s what he could cook up in half a season on short notice, there’s at least the chance the time off to examine the ingredients in Toronto’s cupboard and a mini-camp to sample how they mix together could yield a more enticing final product.

Earlier Thursday, Friedman reported that players were informed Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan — the phase which includes training camps — won’t start before July 10. So that “added bonus” and any of its potential benefits is still a ways away for Tavares, Keefe and the rest of the Maple Leafs.

And if Tavares’ optimism is well-placed, if camps can be held, hockey can return and a Stanley Cup can be played for, there will be at least one more new face potentially joining him on the Maple Leafs: OHL standout Nick Robertson.

“I can imagine being in Nick’s shoes and just your hair standing up on end, getting an opportunity to be part of the team in a unique situation like this — an opportunity to help us win a Stanley Cup,” Tavares said.

Expectations accompany opportunities like that, certainly. And nerves, probably. Putting on a Maple Leafs jersey means wearing the hopes of a championship-starved fan base too — not a simple experience for an 18-year-old, to say the least.

Tavares is no stranger to shouldering that weight. He chose it, after all, deciding to sign with Toronto as a free agent, and with that familiarity comes advice for how to navigate it.

“You’re here for a reason,” Tavares said. “You shouldn’t feel that you need to walk on egg shells. You need to be yourself, you need to play like yourself. Never take anything for granted, you gotta go out there and work and earn it — that’s what playing at this level [means].

“…There’s a reason why you’re here and what brought you here, so don’t forget those things. And be yourself. You’re a part of the team, you’re a part of our group, and you mean as much to our team and our success as any one of our core guys.”

Watch Thursday’s edition of #Ask31 Live with John Tavares in its entirety below:

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NHL.com writers vote Leon Draisaitl as Hart Trophy winner – Oilers Nation

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Leon Draisaitl is the winner of the 2019-20 Hart Trophy — at least, that’s what the writers for NHL.com think.

In a survey conducted by 18 NHL.com writers, Draisaitl was given 19 more voting points than his next closest competitor, Nathan MacKinnon.

Draisaitl won the Art Ross Trophy this year as the NHL’s top scorer after posting 43 goals and 67 assists in 71 games.

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Not only that, but he was first in points per game (1.55), assists, and power-play points, with 44. Draisaitl led all forwards in time on ice per game playing 22:37 a night.

The actual vote to determine the Hart Trophy winner will be conducted in a poll completed by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Here’s a look at how the voting broke down:

Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Leon Draisaitl, Oilers, 83 points (12 first-place votes); Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche, 64 points (four first-place votes); David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins, 45 points (one first-place vote); Connor McDavid, Oilers, 34 points (one first-place vote); Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers, 30 points; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 6 points; Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2 points; Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets, 2 points; John Carlson, Washington Capitals, 1 point; Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres, 1 point; Brad Marchand, Bruins, 1 point

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Oilers’ focus on chance to lift Cup won’t be shaken by empty arenas – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — There was a time when surviving the first 10 minutes of a playoff game at old Chicago Stadium — and only trailing 1-0 — was a small victory for the visiting team. It was a building that defined home-ice advantage, a bricks-and-mortar intangible that has been passed on to the newer, bigger United Centre, even if somewhat diluted.

A Chicago hockey rink is the only sporting venue in my 30 years in the business where fans are encouraged to make noise all the way through the national anthem, with a hair-raising crescendo when Wayne Messmer, and now giant Jim Cornelison, bellowed, “and the rocket’s RED GLAAARE!”

Meanwhile, back in Edmonton, we are a one-horse sports town. So, as Ken Hitchcock likes to say, the opponent isn’t playing against 20 Oilers players, or 18,000 fans inside an arena. “You’re playing against a million Oiler fans,” Hitchcock used to say.

As the Oilers get their heads around a play-in series against the Blackhawks, the hockey world will have to get used to playoff hockey without the usual fan-infused electricity. Two teams playing in a neutral city with zero fans in the rink.

It’s everything we’ve come to love about playoff hockey, except for the part where the fans shape the momentum.

“Have you watched The Last Dance, with Michael Jordan?” Darnell Nurse queried on a Zoom call Thursday about how the players will create their own electricity. “I think that’s a perfect example — his mindset in a lot of those game of creating your own environment, creating your own fire. That’s a test that everyone who is in this situation is going to have to go through: Having to create your own excitement.”

For a long as I can remember, players would declare that after a couple of shifts, a solid body check given or received, anything happening in the stands fades to a blur. Whether it was the Montreal Forum, old Reunion Arena in Dallas, or the Boston Garden — after a while, the game is simply the game.

But will the opposite energy flow work the same way? Will 18,000 empty seats simply become the same white noise that it did when they were filled with screaming fans?

“There shouldn’t be a whole lot that you need to get you going, because you are still playing for a Stanley Cup,” Nurse said. “Yes, there are no fans there, and you might be in a hub city. But there is an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. That should be enough motivation to get anyone going. There are a lot of challenges, a lot of things that are not ideal that come along with this situation. But, that’s the world. The world is in that position right now.

“So, the Stanley Cup should be all the fire you need. It’s another test. You can look at it as another challenge that makes going through this whole process as hard as it’s going to be. That’s the whole other tier to it.”

It is more impactful when the home team scores, their fans go wild, they score again, and the momentum is taken hostage in an environment that makes a comeback seem so distant and difficult?

Or is it about that old hockey axiom, ‘Takin’ the crowd out of the game’? Is that momentum, earned by 20 against 20,000, even more difficult to create? Even more valuable to hold?

Connor McDavid just knows that a series against the Blackhawks will come without raucous anthems and Chi-Town steakhouses, hockey played at its purest with no outside influences.

“Obviously Chicago is one of the most fun buildings to play in. Their fans are great but I’d like to think our fans are better,” he said. “So there’s definitely going to be some loss of home-ice advantage for sure. All you’ll get is the last change or whatnot. Yeah, it’s not going be the same. There’s no doubt about that.

“It sucks, frankly, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get back playing hockey and I’m sure those fans will be cheering loud in their living rooms or wherever they’re watching from. I think it’ll suck but we’ve got to what we’ve got to do.”

That’s not all that “sucks” from an Edmonton standpoint.

While Boston Bruins president Cam Neely finds the playoff format “somewhat disappointing,” with his league-leading Bruins forced to play a round-robin that will seed the top four teams in each Conference, the Oilers got an even worse break. They are the only NHL team that stood second in their Division to be forced to play a qualifying round series, losing out to the Dallas Stars on point percentage.

McDavid was on the Return to Play Committee. Was it tough to endorse a format that gave the Oilers a bad shake?

“No, it wasn’t tough, honestly,” McDavid said. “Everyone on that committee — everyone around the league — has to take a step back and say, ‘What’s best for the league?’ Not, ‘What’s best for me and my team?’

“We (Oilers) were in a position where we were going to be included in any format, so that was a positive. Unfortunately, we were one of those teams that were on the bubble of being in the top four, or being in the play-ins. We’re not in the top four, and Dallas probably deserves to be there. So we’ll get the job done, and hopefully move on to an exciting playoffs.”

Exciting to watch. But they’ll be weird at the same time.

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