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Insider Trading: Next steps in NHL’s plan to start 2020-21 season

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What is the next step for the NHL to return to play and start the 2020-21 season? Are the Vegas Golden Knights shopping Max Pacioretty? And is there any change in NHL teams’ willingness to free up players for the World Juniors? The TSN Hockey Insiders discuss this and more in Insider Trading.

It looks like the league and players have figured out the dollars, so what’s next?

Dreger: A lot of work on protocols. Everyday we’re reminded of how devastating COVID-19 is. And the National Hockey League and Players’ Association, along with the government leaders, are very sensitive to that. I’ll remind you, in the summer going into Return to Play, there was an opt-out option for any player or team personnel who didn’t want to participate, didn’t want to deal with the risk of COVID-19. And a number of people took advantage of that. Well, there is going to have to be opt-out language in the 2020-21 season prep work as well.

In addition to that, what about vaccinations? Testing was mandated by the NHL and the NHLPA as part of Return to Play. When the vaccine is ready and is available to NHL players and club personnel, will it be mandatory? Both the opt-out and mandatory vaccinations have to be discussed and agreed upon between the NHL and the NHLPA.

Seravalli: Before these two sides decided to stick to the CBA that was ratified in July, there were a few interesting proposals that went around and I’m told that included a round of compliance buyouts. The stipulation here of course would be that if any compliance buyouts were to take place, they would come off of the owners’ share completely. That was a non-starter for the NHL in this case, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be something that moves forward. But you can bet that a number of general managers around the NHL would have been interested in a potential ‘get out of salary cap jail free card.’ But alas, that won’t be the case.

We’ve seen sports leagues in the past come up with schedules only to have the COVID-19 pandemic wreak havoc of them. How is the NHL going to prepare for that possibility?

LeBrun: It’s a big part of what’s happening here in terms of their preparation. And as one source said today, there are conflicting objectives here. On the one hand you want to play as many games as possible in a short amount of time between mid-January and early- to mid-July. On the other hand, watching the NFL go through its season, the NHL and NHLPA know that there will probably be games that are going to be postponed because of COVID-19 cases. So they are working in some empty days within that schedule. So at the end of the day, it will be a little less compressed than you might have imagined because they have to have that flexibility in there.

Speaking of flexibility, what about rosters? The NHL can’t go into this shortened season, still in this pandemic, with the same old roster, as per the normal rules. The NHL, I’m told, has made a proposed framework to the NHLPA over the last few days as far as the new-looking rosters: how many players you can have, and taxi squads. The NHLPA has to get back to the league on that. The two sides have to finalize that but, again, the key work there will be flexibility.

Seravalli: Taxi squads are going to be so important and it’s something that GMs are keeping an eye on and it’s going to be more difficult for some teams than others, specifically, some of the teams in Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers, none of those teams plan to bring their AHL team north of the border for the season, so they’re probably going to have to keep some guys stashed in their home city because call-ups are going to be such a challenge.

As for the Eastern Canadian teams, and you can include the Winnipeg Jets and their AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose, the plan is to have them play in a four-team Canadian division including the Toronto Marlies, Laval Rocket, and Belleville Senators.

So moving forward, travel is going to be complicated, taxi squads are going to be complicated, but the AHL does still plan to drop the puck on February 5 if they can get their house in order as well. They are waiting on a number of things, including the NHL finalizing their own plans.

The original plan was to give the seven teams that didn’t make the playoffs an extra week on the ice before camps officially open – is that still the plan?

LeBrun: It’s certainly not going to be a week and whether they have any extra time at all, we’ll see. Right now the league hopes to give those seven teams, including the Ottawa Senators, a couple of extra days ahead of all 31 teams opening camp. But it is a matter that is still open with the NHLPA, still to be determined.

Now that we have a proposed return to play date, teams are starting to get back to business. Could the Vegas Golden Knights be looking to move Max Pacioretty?

Seravalli: I’m told the Golden Knights have doubled down in recent days and weeks in an attempt to try and move Pacioretty. He has three years left at $7 million a year coming off a 32-goal shortened season. You think back previously in this off-season, they were trying to move any number of players on their team to try and gain salary cap flexibility. There is no question the team is over the cap at this point, but they believe they can be cap compliant by opening night. Pacioretty would go a long way in terms of getting some of that flexibility and also enable them to potentially take a run at any number of the high-profile free agents that remain unsigned at this point, like a Mike Hoffman or an Erik Haula.

Now that the NHL has a plan, how, if at all, does this affect NHL teams’ willingness to free up players for the World Juniors?

Dreger: It definitely has some influence, there’s no doubt about that. I’ll give you the example of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nick Robertson. Robertson would love to join Team USA, Team USA would love to have Robertson at the World Juniors. It’s all a basis now of timing. If Team USA has a successful tournament, assuming the tournament goes on without a hitch, and they make it to the semifinals, that takes you to January 5. By the time Robertson gets back and he goes through the eight-day mandatory quarantine, he won’t be available to the Maple Leafs until January 14th. So, decision pending.

We were wondering if all this chaos might hurt the momentum the Seattle expansion team was trying to generate ahead of next season’s debut, but apparently that hasn’t been a problem?

LeBrun: No, there’s tremendous interest in Seattle. I spoke with CEO Tod Leiweke this week and one of the things that he said was that sometime in January or February they will have sold out their season ticket packages. Essentially they have capped it at around 15,000 in one form or another in a rink that’s going to seat 17,000. There is a waiting list, so tremendous interest. Also on the financial side for Seattle, I’m told through various sources that the Kraken have maintained their schedule in paying their installments on that $650 million expansion fee. The last installment should be this upcoming spring and once they do that, just like Vegas in March 2017, they can be invited to GM meetings, Board of Governors meetings, and they can start making trades.

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