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IIHF chief encouraged by NHL’s potential return to Olympics in 2022

International Ice Hockey Federation chief Rene’ Fasel is encouraged after learning the NHL’s pending labor deal opens the possibility of the world’s best players returning to the Olympics.

Aside from the uncertainty raised by the coronavirus pandemic, Fasel told The Associated Press he doesn’t foresee any major stumbling blocks that could derail negotiations leading up to the 2022 Beijing Games.

“No, I don’t think there’s a deal-breaker,” he said Tuesday. “There are a lot of challenges. But I think in principle, I would say the news that that’s in the CBA, for me and especially international hockey, is very good news.”

Fasel spoke a day after the NHL and NHL Players’ Association tentatively agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for four years, which would run through the 2025-26 season.

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Sources tell ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that the agreement includes a provision that would allow NHL players to compete at the next two Winter Games, including the 2026 Olympics in Italy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the contents of the CBA were not released.

The league participated in five consecutive Olympics before skipping the 2018 Games in South Korea.

In order to return, the NHL and its players would first have to resolve various outstanding issues — including health insurance, travel costs and marketing rights — with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee.

Travel costs alone to Pyeongchang two years ago were projected to be $15 million, which the IOC refused to pay. The NHL was also denied control of using Olympic game footage to promote the league and players. Another concern was weighing the benefits of shutting down the regular season for two weeks only to have Olympic games being played in the early morning hours in North America due to the 14-hour time difference; a similar time difference would be present for 2022.

Fasel acknowledged the NHL’s concerns and said he was encouraged after the parties had what he called “a very positive meeting” in New York in early February. Follow-up discussions were placed on hold due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t give up after Pyeongchang. We understood the situation, how it was at that time. No bad feelings,” he said. “We really hope it will come in ’22, and we are ready to work and find a solution.”

The NHL and union have declined to discuss the proposed CBA until it is approved, which could happen as early as Friday.

Carolina Hurricanes veteran forward Justin Williams called the Olympic proposal “really attractive.”

“I just think it’s great for the game of hockey to be able to showcase the best players,” Williams said. “The Olympics are a special event in itself, but having NHL players there, even as actual players, we love to see the best on best. That’s pretty special.”

USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said he was thrilled by the possibility of being able to put together a team with NHL players, which could include rising young stars such as Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and Seth Jones.

“It’s exciting to consider the team of Americans that could represent our country in Beijing, and we applaud the efforts of the NHL and the NHLPA in making this a possibility,” Kelleher said.

The NHL previously tamped down the chances of returning to Olympic play.

“At this point in time, we believe that the negatives outweigh the positives,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said following the February meeting in New York. Daly did raise the prospect of folding Olympic participation into CBA talks.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr had a different take on talks with the IOC and IIHF, saying: “The impression I had coming out of the meeting was there ought to be a way to get this done to everybody’s satisfaction.”

Fehr previously described the decision to skip the 2018 Games as a lost opportunity to showcase the sport.

Fasel, whose term as IIHF president was extended a year to September 2021, praised the NHL and players for addressing the Olympics in the CBA.

“We do not have leverage, and we just have to get the PA and the NHL to understand this is good for the promotion of the sport, especially in Asia,” Fasel said. “I’m happy that in the end they understand this is important for the development of ice hockey in the future.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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The NHL’s coronavirus pause – Updates to the playoff format, more questions as team facilities open

It has been 88 days since the NHL hit the pause button on the 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the cancellations and postponements around the world of sports continue, there also have been continuous nuggets of new information regarding the potential resumption of the season, the draft, the playoffs and how it all affects 2020-21.

As players, executives and fans continue to adjust to the new normal, we will provide updates every week, answering all the burning questions about the various angles of the NHL’s relation to the pandemic. Although on-ice action remains on the shelf, there have been some intriguing developments since last week’s update. Get caught up on it all here:

Emily Kaplan: The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed that the qualifying round of the 24-team tournament will be best-of-five series and all four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven series. The sides also determined that the tournament will not be bracketed, but will be reseeded after every round.

The top four teams in each conference will play three round-robin games each to determine their seeding. The league said any ties at the end of round-robin play will be broken by regular-season points percentage.

There are still plenty of details to figure out, including a comprehensive plan for health and safety protocols for games. It’s also notable that going for full seven-game series, instead of five-game series in the first and/or second playoff rounds, means the tournament could last as many as 68 days. Time could be of the essence if the NHL is battling against a potential second wave of the coronavirus in the fall.

Which side won out on the playoff format?

Greg Wyshynski: The players have supported making later playoff rounds unbracketed and ensuring the 16-team tournament had seven-games series. The NHL favored a bracketed tournament and floated the idea of five-game series in the first two rounds of the 16-team tournament due to time constraints. The players also wanted “meaningful games” for the top seeds — hence the round-robin tournament for the top four teams in each conference. This format would appear to have answered many of their concerns, even if it remains imperfect.

The bottom line for many of the players on these 24 teams that will complete the season: that the tournament have a level of integrity that makes the risks in returning to play acceptable. By and large, the format they settled on does that, especially keeping the seven-game series in the round of 16.

“I think that keeps the integrity of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and prevents any excuses made for whoever ultimately wins the Cup. The best team should come out of this,” said Blake Coleman of the Tampa Bay Lightning last week.

When these games are played, what advantages does the ‘home team’ get?

Wyshynski: In the qualifying round, the higher-seeded team will be designated the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. In the later rounds, it will follow the traditional format of having the top seed as the “home team” in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. That includes the Stanley Cup Final, where the home team will be designated by having the higher regular-season points percentage.

With the NHL on pause since March 12, the league and players’ association have come up with a “return-to-play” format featuring 24 teams.

• Details on the return-to-play plan »
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The benefits are expected to be the same as they would be for home ice outside of the “hub city” arrangement. Home teams get the last change, meaning they get the matchups they want. Home teams get an advantage in bench position, only having to make the “long change” in the second period of games. Home teams get an advantage on faceoffs as well. Logistically, one assumes the home team in a hub city will get a tricked-out and larger locker room vs. the one designated for the road team.

What they won’t have, of course, is the greatest hallmark of home-ice advantage: fan support. That’s something players are still wrapping their brains around. Cam Talbot of the Calgary Flames, for example, can’t quite conceive what a playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets is going to be like without the “White Out” and the “Sea of Red” in the stands.

“No, it’s going to be so weird. I think that’s one of the biggest things that no one can really wrap their head around right now: What is it gonna feel like being inside of the arena?” he told ESPN last week. “Is there still going to be a national anthem? There’s not going to be anything going on around us when a goal is scored. You’re going to be able to hear basically nothing except for the guys celebrating. Nothing to pump you up at home and nothing to battle through on the road. Sometimes, those are the best games: You get the other team’s fans yelling at you and it just makes you want to play that much harder. Without fans in the stands, it takes away a lot of the atmosphere. We’re going to have to create our own momentum, I guess. It’s going to be a weird, weird feeling with no fans in the stands. That’s the best part of playoff hockey.”

Fans certainly bring a great deal of passion with them to playoff games. John Woods/The Canadian Press via APAny update on when the NHL will appoint hub cities?

Wyshynski: The NHL continues to comb through the applicants for potential hub cities, keeping an eye on things such as testing capacity in the localities, rates of COVID-19 infection and local regulations.

“I think it’s unlikely there’s going to be an announcement for another 10 days to two weeks at the earliest,” said NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, in an interview with Sportsnet 590. “Obviously, the NHL is going through the cities, the logistics, the pros and cons of what each one would be. They’re also dealing with the differing public health measures which may be in effect for those places, as well as any immigration issues that might arise. We’re some times for being able to make that announcement, I think.”

As mentioned here previously, Las Vegas has been a speculative front-runner for being one hub city. Although one wonders if the NHL has taken notice of the rather loose restrictions inside some casinos as Sin City reopens.

Kaplan: It’s a good sign because this is something the NHL had been aiming to get done for weeks now. That said, don’t expect all 31 teams to open their doors on Monday.

Since the Phase 2 protocols are so comprehensive and quite frankly, intense — it calls for, among many other things, all teams to appoint a Club Facility Hygiene Officer — many teams are still figuring out details before they get started. A league source suggested we could see facilities open “gradually” over the next two weeks. There are some teams with plenty of players who stuck around in town; Tampa Bay is a good example, just watch this well-produced video Lightning forward Alex Killorn posted on social media:

The moment @NHL says you can skate again! #boltsflytogether #directorialdebut #breakoutinfluenceroftheyear pic.twitter.com/YiSD8kjV88

— Alex Killorn (@Akillorn19) May 28, 2020

Other teams don’t have many players in the market. I’m told that Montreal, for example, has fewer than five players who stuck around. So those teams have to figure out what makes sense for them.

If you need a refresher on what Phase 2 looks like, here are the basics: a maximum of six players can train at the team facilities at once. On-ice sessions are for players only, with no coaches or other team personnel allowed on the ice. Players must wear face coverings at all times, except when they are exercising or on the ice.

How are teams handling the opening of training facilities?

Wyshynski: Every NHL team seems to be approaching Phase 2 with different expectations and timelines.

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For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins expect a hearty turnout of players when they return to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex beginning on Tuesday for training. All players and select staff permitted inside the facility will be tested for COVID-19 prior to participation. Those who test negative will be eligible for medical evaluations on Monday.

The Arizona Coyotes also are doing COVID-19 testing in order to have players who test negative take part in medical evaluations on Monday ahead of returning to training facilities on Thursday.

The New York Islanders said about one-third of their team has remained on Long Island, and that workouts at Northwell Health Ice Center after Monday’s reopening will be “very voluntary” for them. “As far as how many players will be coming or when they will start, I could not give that answer yet,” GM Lou Lamoriello said during a conference call. “I’ll be speaking to each and every one of them over the weekend. Everything has been satisfied for the players.”

But the Carolina Hurricanes are in a different position. They won’t be opening their training facility this week. According to the team, part of that decision is fueled by their new training facility not yet ready to be opened, and part of it is the players not yet requiring it. “There has been a lot of discussions with the players about what makes the most sense for them logistically. We have 7-8 guys still around [the Raleigh area], but as of now they seem content with whatever training arrangements they’ve made without us,” said Hurricanes spokesman Mike Sundheim.

Then there are the Canadiens. TSN reported that the Canadiens are expected to open their practice facility on Thursday, but that given the quarantine rules in Canada, many players from outside the country prefer to continue their training elsewhere. But the Montreal Gazette reported that the Bell Sports Complex didn’t have any ice as of Friday because “the Canadiens have laid off the staff that takes care of the ice.” The paper said that the ice would be “in place and ready for players” by Thursday, though as noted above, there aren’t many Canadiens players actually in the Montreal area currently.

When will training camps get started?

Kaplan: There were some rumors floating that training camps may be moved to August, but the league pushed back on that idea. In an email this week, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told me “further delaying the opening of Training Camps is not not being discussed or considered.”

That keeps the NHL on track to open training camps sometime in July. Training camps are expected to be roughly three weeks, however that’s still something that needs to be negotiated between the league and players (Gary Bettman says he will seek player input here on what they feel is appropriate).

Henrik Lundqvist is among the players who have self-isolated in Europe during the NHL’s pause. Tim Spyers/Icon SportswireAre teams having their European players come back extra early, or continue to train overseas?

Kaplan: Bettman said that 17% of NHL players left North America to self-isolate. But no teams are allowed to require players to return to their playing cities yet; remember, Phase 2 is strictly voluntary.

Penguins star Evgeni Malkin posted a selfie on Instagram of him on a plane with the caption “Let’s get Back to Business” implying he’s off to Pittsburgh to skate with teammates in Phase 2:

However he’s probably in the minority for now. A lot of players are still taking a wait-and-see approach, and now that rinks are opening up around North America, many players will have access to ice without having to travel. My friend, Swedish journalist Uffe Bodin, told me he believes most players in Sweden will likely stay there until they are required to return, since most of them have their own personal trainers both on an off the ice, so there’s no rush to return to uncertainty in North America.

Has there been any development on Canada’s 14-day quarantine issue?

Kaplan: Not yet. That’s still an issue, and one of the reasons many players on Canadian teams who chose to self-isolate in the U.S. or Europe likely won’t be back to their playing cities until they absolutely have to. Because if anyone crosses into the Canadian border, they have to quarantine for 14 days, which is obviously less than ideal. Might as well stay home for now.

Any updates on the collective bargaining front?

Wyshynski: Fehr said “we had been in talks for the better part of a year, and now we have these other issues to deal with.” The new issues, of course, are directly related to the “adverse economic conditions” that the league has faced this season, and could likely face next season. The current CBA is in effect through the 2021-22 season.

• Kaplan: The perfect forward »
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• Wyshynski: The perfect goalie »
• Peters: Best draft prospect by skill »

One of the central challenges in trying to iron out a CBA extension is how to handle the amount of money the players might have to give up to the owners under their “50-50” revenue split under these conditions. Can it be rolled into a new CBA, over the span of several seasons?

The CBA talks are ongoing as the sides discuss return to play, and on a variety of topics. Like how to calculate hockey-related revenue, given all that’s happened economically and with a new U.S. television contract looming. One such component of this is the salary cap, which would drop precipitously under its linkage to revenue, unless the players vote to artificially inflate it. There has been talk that a flat cap of $81.5 million over multiple seasons could be in play.

There has been optimism about CBA talks for a bit, and the collaboration between the sides during this return to play has fueled that. But the past few months have certainly changed the math in that next agreement.

“If we could come to an agreement, that would provide for an extension of the CBA and cover all these things, great. But we won’t know that for a while,” Fehr said.

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The NHL’s coronavirus pause – Playoff format, practice plans, draft debate and more

It has been 60 days since the NHL hit the pause button on the 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the cancellations and postponements around the world of sports continue, there have also been continuous nuggets of new information being provided regarding the potential resumption of the season, the draft, the playoffs and how it all impacts 2020-21.

As players, executives and fans continue to adjust to the new normal, we will provide updates every Monday, answering all the burning questions about the various angles of the NHL’s relation to the pandemic. Although on-ice action remains on the shelf, there have been some intriguing developments since last week’s update. Get caught up here:

Has there been an update on when play could resume?

Greg Wyshynski: Sadly, there is not. The NHL’s 2019-20 season remains paused, as it has been since March 12, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Games have been postponed, not canceled. The league continues to play the waiting game.

(The American Hockey League, meanwhile, has ended its waiting game this week, and has canceled the rest of its “paused” season. It’s an even more gate-driven league than the NHL, so a restart in empty arenas doesn’t make much sense. An NHL executive estimated to the Ottawa Sun that “75-to-85% of the revenues for AHL teams are generated by ticket sales and the rest come in from sponsorships.”)

The situation remains fluid and unpredictable for the NHL, which is still at the mercy of local and federal restrictions on travel, mass gatherings and essential businesses. The broad strokes of the NHL’s plans remain consistent: Finish the 2019-20 season, and do it in a way that won’t dramatically impact the integrity of an 82-game 2020-21 season. All possibilities remain on the table for a season restart. But as one NHL source put it last week: Anyone claiming there are concrete dates for a return to play is peddling inaccurate information.

“If we can go back early, we will. If we have to wait, we will. And next year will be determined by when we finish,” said the source.

Is returning to play without fans attending games still the likely plan?

Wyshynski: Yes. The NHL is deep into planning for games to be played without fans if the season is restarted.

But what if the league waited to play the rest of the 2019-20 season until fans could potentially return to arenas?

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That’s one of the theories we’ve been hearing from sources around the league: That the NHL could potentially wait until September or October to finish the 2019-20 season. Perhaps then restrictions on mass gatherings could be lifted, and safety protocols for fans at games could be implemented. Generating revenue is one of the main catalysts for restarting the season — why not wait to see if that could include gate revenue from fans attending games, if the restart was pushed much later in the year?

It’s an interesting theory, no doubt. But not one currently under consideration by the NHL. A league source strongly pushed back on this being an option, indicating that the season will be restarted sooner rather than later.

One big reason: The unpredictability of the pandemic. If the league waited beyond the expected restart window in July and August, and then there’s a second wave of COVID-19 that forces further restrictions and another shutdown, then next season could be dramatically impacted. Which, again, is the last thing the NHL wants, especially since fans could be back at some point in 2020-21.

Is the NHL still considering a plan with four hub cities? And which cities/teams have put in bids to host?

Emily Kaplan: Yep, that’s still the plan for now, though the NHL is not in any rush to firm up where those hub cities will be — largely because there’s still too much unknown about what the landscape will look like later this summer.

According to sources, a “double-digit” number of teams have expressed interest and put in proposals to the NHL to host. The NHL has some criteria each city would need to tick off. For one, there needs to be an adequate testing program — in other words, the NHL would need to have the ability to obtain a large number of coronavirus tests and administer them. The city must also have a “first-class” arena, available practice ice, hotel capacity and the ability of secure access for everything. And most importantly: Any city would have to have the OK from local governments and health authorities to stage games.

That has led some politicians to get involved. On Wednesday, British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he wrote a letter to both commissioner Gary Bettman and the head of the NHLPA, Donald Fehr, to let them know that B.C. is “a place to potentially restart the NHL assuming the games would be played without audiences, but instead played for television.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Tuesday that the Maple Leafs’ parent company, MLSE, has been in contact with the province about the possibility of Toronto being a host as well.

One thing to keep an eye on is what isolation protocols would look like in each of these locations. Players have already expressed a lot of pushback about being separated from their families for an extended period of time. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota’s NHLPA player rep, has been on a lot of the calls with Fehr and other union leaders lately. In a conference call with local reporters this week, Dubnyk reiterated that this is a big issue among players.

“Guys with kids at home aren’t interested in shackling up somewhere for four months and being away from them,” Dubnyk said. “I know myself personally, I’m not interested in packing up and going away for that length of time away from my family. I can’t imagine that anybody else would, and I think it sounds like the NHL is sensitive to that and understands that, so we’re just going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds here.”

Dubnyk added: “These are questions that can’t be answered right now, but, I mean, nobody with kids is going to want to be away for three or four months at a time. I think that’s a lot to ask out of guys.”

Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk has noted that players with kids at home would not be interested in separating from them for months to complete the season. Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesWhat’s the latest on playoff format?

Wyshynski: We can confirm that the league is currently focused on jumping directly to the Stanley Cup playoffs rather than attempting to complete the regular season ahead of the playoffs.

As we’ve reported before, there are 189 regular-season games left on the schedule to be played. NHL teams have contractual commitments with local broadcasting partners and sponsors that wouldn’t be fulfilled. That money would be likely credited against revenue from the 2020-21 season. There’s upwards of $150 million left on the table if the NHL doesn’t complete its regular season.

Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski take you around the NHL with the latest news, big questions and special guests every episode. Listen here »

But as of last week, the focus has been on skipping right to the playoffs. This doesn’t make it a certainty — focus can shift quickly during these unpredictable times — but this is the current thinking.

Part of the motivation is timing. The NHL has no idea when it might be able to attempt a restart, and hence might not have time to stage regular-season games. Part of this is the duration: If they’re asking players to play in a quarantined “hub,” reducing the amount of time necessary for them to be in that hub would be optimal. Part of this is the pushback, as several players from non-playoff teams have voiced concerns about returning to play in a pandemic for what would be essentially meaningless games — especially if the 2020 NHL draft is held before the season is restarted, rendering those final regular-season games immaterial toward the draft lottery.

The New York Post reported that the NHL’s “reopening plan” has shifted to “staging a 24-team tournament that would include a best-of-three, play-in round.” That’s one of the formats under consideration, but the playoff format could end up with fewer teams.

An NHL source said the number of teams in the postseason, and the format, would be entirely dictated by the schedule for the restart, vis-a-vis next season. “And they have no idea on the timing,” said the source.

And what about the draft?

Kaplan: As we reported last week, the NHL league office is extremely interested in staging the draft in early June, before the 2019-20 season is completed. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent out a memo to teams on May 1 that stated the league’s case. Daly wrote that NBC and Sportsnet, the league’s broadcast partners, “are enthusiastically in favor of an early draft.”

He noted the NFL’s smash-hit ratings for its April draft, which capitalized on a nonexistent sports schedule, and promised that the NHL could create weeks worth of media content to keep hockey relevant. But the biggest point, which Daly articulated in a CHED Edmonton radio interview: “There’s no perfect solution. We think there are benefits to having the draft in June, including the fact that it’s a necessary piece of league business that has to transpire at some point in time, and our clubs are as ready for it now as they would be at any other time — and probably better prepared than they would be in the fall.”

So the NHL held a conference call with its board of governors last Monday. The league was hoping for a quick decision — especially since it’s believed there needs to be about a month of prep time before the draft — but the governors pushed back against the idea on the call. Most of it stemmed from concerns from their own general managers; very few GMs want an earlier draft, citing complicated logistics that are simply too unorthodox, even during this unprecedented time.

(Among issues brought up: the fact that the draft is typically a busy time for trading. If the draft were held before the completion of the 2019-20 season, that would obviously prohibit some moves. Plus, the league doesn’t even know what its salary cap will be next season, so many teams don’t know what type of roster maneuvering they’ll need to do.)

As of this writing, the NHL still has not made a decision on when to hold the draft. And the new tune the league office is singing? There’s no urgency in reaching a decision.

The uncertainty continues for Quinton Byfield and other top draft prospects. Chris Tanouye/Getty ImagesIs the timing of the draft tied to the restart of the 2019-20 season?

Wyshynski: We’ve gotten some conflicting reports on this. An NHL source indicated that Bettman wanted to “see what happens with the season before he makes a decision on the draft.” An NHL source also said that “right now they’re tied to each other.”

But Daly said in an email to ESPN on Friday that the date of the draft being tied to the scheduling of the restarted season is “not accurate.”

What about the NHL reopening training facilities for players?

Kaplan: The NHL wants to be able to open team facilities for players to participate in small group workouts, and it is still aiming for it to happen in mid to late May. That would move the league into “Phase 2” of its return-to-play schedule, and keep the NHL on track to resuming play at some point this summer.

However, the league has decided — based off input from teams, the board of governors and the NHLPA — that for competitive balance purposes, it doesn’t want to open facilities until an “acceptable mass” of markets are able to do so. As of now, only about half of the league’s 31 teams are in cities that would allow facilities to open. The league is monitoring the reopening plans of states and provinces, and whenever it determines that the disparity between markets has acceptably shrunk, it will move.

“We will make a league-wide decision on the opening of team training facilities, and it will be at least somewhat dependent on where each market is across the league in terms of its ability to accommodate small group training. We aren’t looking to create competitive inequities between various markets,” Daly noted in an email to ESPN.

The NBA is opening up its facilities for small group workouts. Does that impact the NHL?

Kaplan: On Friday, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers became the first two NBA facilities to open. Players worked out on separate ends of the court, while assistant coaches were required to wear a mask and gloves. Cavs forward Kevin Love detailed the experience of working out to ESPN on Friday, explaining that he had to use a side entrance, and was questioned about who he interacted with recently and how they had been feeling. Love, and all others who entered the facility, also had to take temperature checks; anyone with a fever was not allowed inside.

The NHL will probably feature similar protocols. However, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA is also allowing teams to administer tests to asymptomatic players and staff, as long as coronavirus testing is readily available in that municipality. That’s something the NHL would like to do, but doesn’t feel comfortable doing just yet.

“We’re going to need to have access to testing, and we’re going to make it a point that we’re not accessing testing, even in a private way, if testing availability is an issue in the community,” Daly told CHED Edmonton last week. “We will not test asymptomatic players ahead of symptomatic people who are unable to get tested. It’s just something we will not do.”

Kaplan: The Global Series is a key event for the NHL’s international marketing and growth strategy. For the 2020-21 season, the NHL had committed to some good matchups: The Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators were scheduled to open their seasons against one another in Prague, Czech Republic, after completing their training camps in Germany and Switzerland, respectively. Then, the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets were due to play a pair of regular-season games at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland. It would have been a particularly special trip for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, a native of Finland and the NHL’s first European-born general manager.

With the next few months in flux, the NHL and NHLPA made the proactive decision to cancel all of those events, though it said it was “looking forward” to a return in 2021. The future of European games is not in doubt, but it will be interesting to see how the NHL handles its strategy in Asia going forward. The NHL has been trying to establish a presence in China and played preseason games in China in 2017 and 2018 but missed this past fall because of logistical issues with booking arenas. While the NHL was optimistic about a return ahead of the 2020-21 season, Daly told ESPN last month that the outbreak made it difficult to firm up plans. As the NHL tries to restore normalcy over the next two seasons, let’s see how ambitious the NHL becomes with scheduling and what the appetite is for all parties.

Jeff Carter hasn’t been able to see a specialist regarding his injury, and that will prevent him from returning to a resumed 2019-20 season. Brett Holmes/Icon SportswireJeff Carter won’t be able to play if the season resumes because he can’t see his specialist. Are any other players in the same boat?

Wyshynski: Kings GM Rob Blake revealed last week that Carter won’t be back for Los Angeles in a restarted season. “Part of the issue is he needs to travel to see a certain specialist to get a further diagnosis and nothing can be taking place right now. He’s continuing a rehab program from home. He hasn’t been around the practice rink in that aspect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be able to play if our season were to start in the next couple of months,” said Blake.

There are likely other players who aren’t getting the specialized attention they need with NHL and medical facilities closed, but most of the recent stories about injuries are about players on the mend during the COVID-19 pause.

Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones had ankle surgery on Feb. 11 and could have been out up to 10 weeks. Teammate Oliver Bjorkstrand went out on Feb. 20 with a fractured ankle and also was expected to be out up to 10 weeks. Both players have been skating together during the pause, as rehabbing players have been permitted to do so.

Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reported that “you can bet all the previously injured [Avalanche] players are ready to go, including Colin Wilson, who hasn’t played since October.” That list includes forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert and goaltender Philipp Grubauer

A lower-body injury sidelined Golden Knights winger Mark Stone for the final six games before the NHL season was paused. He was expected to miss a month, but told NHL.com: “I’m good. Healing up. Still have a couple little obstacles to get over, but overall in a good spot. Just want to play hockey again.”

Finally, what’s your latest pop culture addiction this week?

Kaplan: It was (briefly) biking weather in Chicago last week — maybe spring will come, eventually — so I caught up on some podcasts while going for some rides around my neighborhood. Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s “Oh Hello, the P’dcast” was an enjoyable diversion. Their bit, which includes mis-emphasized pronunciations and ridiculous gestures, like “entirely too much tuna,” totally translates to audio. And there’s some good satire of podcasting as a format, as well.

Wyshynski: I just started “Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever” by Nick de Semlyen, which looks at the breakout moments for comedians like Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray and Steve Martin. It came highly recommended for fans of “inside the business” stories, like yours truly. We’re also playing a few board and card games, and “Monopoly Deal” is a fun one: a 15-minute micro-version of “Monopoly,” where you try to complete three property sets. There are lots of fun action cards to steal away properties and force your opponents to pay rent. Sometimes the cards work in your favor. Other times you start whining about “not getting any stupid wild cards in the four games I lost.” Any guess which one was me?

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NHL

The NHL’s coronavirus pause – possible playoff host cities, virtual draft, player concerns and more

It has been 32 days since the NHL decided to hit the pause button on the 2019-20 season, joining a staggering list of cancellations and postponements related to COVID-19.

As players, execs and fans continue to adjust to the new normal, we will be providing updates every Monday, answering all the burning questions on the various angles of the NHL’s relation to the pandemic; although on-ice action remains on the shelf, there have been substantial developments since last week’s update. Get caught up here:

Has there been an update on when play could resume?

Emily Kaplan: Not really. The NHL is still aiming to stage the Stanley Cup Playoffs this summer, if it gets the OK from health authorities. This will be contingent on where North America is on the curve, what stay-at-home orders are still in place and the availability of quick-turnaround testing — and whether it is ethical for a private company like the NHL to secure a large quantity of those tests.

On Friday, we asked deputy commissioner Bill Daly if the NHL had a date in mind when it had to decide whether it was feasible to resume play and try to salvage the 2019-20 season.

We’re rewatching some of the best games of the 2019-20 season and highlighting what to watch for in each of them:

• Hurricanes-Maple Leafs, Feb. 22 »
Watch the replay here »
• Blues-Golden Knights, Feb. 13 »
Watch the replay here »
• Flyers-Penguins, Jan. 31 »
Watch the replay here »

“We’re just starting to get our minds around that,” Daly said. “It’s kind of a combination of things, like when we can start a regular season [in 2020-21] and how much time we need for an offseason, and then what does the playoff format look like, in terms of knowing what you need to have a regular season. We’re starting to get our heads around that a little bit. I don’t think I’m prepared to share any dates yet.”

Daly admitted that truncated playoff series — which are usually best of seven — is definitely an option if the NHL is facing a time constraint. “I would say that a best-of-one is not something we would ever go to,” Daly said. “I’ve always had the caveat that everything is on the table and nothing is out of the question. I would say there would be a strong opposition to ever creating a playoff where it was a single elimination. I think best of three is more possible, not preferred, but more possible than a best-of-one scenario.”

The NHL and NHLPA have been in constant communication throughout the pause, and by all accounts, the sides have been collaborative and the relationship seems strong, which is one positive to come out of this. Daly said the NHLPA has articulated an amount of time that players would need for a “proper” offseason before the 2020-21 season can begin. Would the players need four weeks? Six weeks? Two months?

“We’ve talked about that generally, and we have a good idea,” Daly said. “But I don’t want to get too specific.”

Is the goal still to complete the 2019-20 regular season in some manner before the playoffs begin?

Greg Wyshynski: That’s the objective for both the NHL and its players, as long as the calendar permits it. Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the NHLPA executive director, told Sirius XM NHL Network Radio’s “The Hot Stove” that the players believe “there’s a path towards” finishing the regular season and “there’s a fair amount of optimism that we’re going to be able to play again, in all or part of, the rest of the season.”

That greatly depends on how much time they’ll have to prepare for regular-season games and the playoffs this summer. “The biggest issue for our guys, in these return-to-play scenarios, is that they’re just not on the ice,” said Schneider. “It might be on a limited basis [for] some of the guys over in Europe or Sweden, or something like that. The guys can train at home, but lack of ice time is a critical thing for our guys.”

The NHLPA had its first formal (and socially distant) meeting last week with the NHL leadership, including the league’s scheduling guru, Steve Hatze Petros. NHLPA executive director Don Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had been in contact with each other on a daily basis, but this meeting was a chance to have a larger exchange of ideas.

The NHLPA wanted to get a “working group” together to come up with “a couple of different scenarios that are accepted to both sides, so when things flip and we’re able to get back, we would be in a much better position, ready to make a decision,” said Schneider.

The scene at Nassau Coliseum and other NHL arenas is truly bleak, as the season remains on indefinite pause. Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesIs there concern that even if fans are allowed to go to games, attendance will be lower than usual?

Wyshynski: There is, for a variety of reasons. The economic impact of the pandemic can’t be comprehended at this point, insofar as how it will affect entertainment expenditures such as hockey tickets. But the health considerations are the real conundrum: Even if the NHL is allowed to play games with fans in the arenas, how many fans are going to opt not to attend until, say, there’s a viable treatment or vaccine for COVID-19?

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To that end, NHL teams are starting to consider what games with a lowered arena capacity could look like — either their own cap on attendance or a social-distancing mandate from the government that could cap it.

The Carolina Hurricanes were the first team to indicate they’re taking this into consideration.

“We have a task force that we’ve put in place internally to talk about all of these options,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said on a video conference call last week. “One of them is that we come back with no fans, and how we’re going to deal with that. The second option is we come back and can only have — pick the number — five or eight thousand people in the building. The third option is that we can be totally open. We’ve talked at length and have plans for all of those situations.”

Daly said on Friday that the Hurricanes didn’t necessarily get that notion from the NHL, but that capped attendance has been considered in other sports.

“Before the shutdown of all sports, I do think there were some college teams that were experimenting with social distancing in the arena. I can’t tell you what the outcome of those experiments were,” Daly said. “I just think it’s just Carolina being comprehensive in understanding what its options are in every eventuality. We’re all trying to do that in a world where there are a lot of unknowns.”

Has there been any update on which cities could host empty-arena games?

Kaplan: Among the reported possible locations for neutral-site games, which would likely be held in empty arenas, are Grand Forks, North Dakota; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

But Daly said the NHL hasn’t even “created the field yet” in determining which sites would work. In fact, once word got out that the NHL was considering neutral-site locations, cities and venues across North America began reaching out to the league, pitching themselves as potential hosts.

“We do have people putting together the comprehensive laundry list of what we would need from facilities and evaluating some facilities on some level,” he said. “But I can’t tell you we’ve even finished creating a list [of potential sites], much less narrowed it down.”

NBA teams have been adamant about having time for traditional draft-combine activities such as workouts and interviews before the league holds its draft. Are NHL teams saying the same thing?

Wyshynski: There’s a reason the NHL postponed rather than canceled its scouting combine in Buffalo, which was scheduled from June 1-6. If possible, the teams want a chance to properly scrutinize prospects before making draft decisions.

“Obviously, our managers have similar concerns as the NBA managers. The more information you can have or obtain before you make draft-day decisions, the better,” said Daly. “If we can do some form of combine and create some opportunity for clubs to do due diligence on players in advance of the draft, we’ll certainly try to accommodate that. If we can’t, we can’t. I think our clubs understand that.”

Wyshynski: If the NHL draft has to happen with all 31 teams in remote locations, the league believes it’s ready for it.

“I actually think that’s pretty easy,” said Daly. “It’s almost like [going] back to the future, right? Our draft, a long time ago, was held by the telephone. If modern technology can be used to create video images, it’s really no different than transmitted selections over an electronic medium.”

(Now, if only there were a way for a virtual Gary Bettman to butt into the selections to announce a trade …)

NHL GMs are constantly working the phones during the draft. Perhaps this year they’ll be doing so from their own team facilities. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty ImagesIs there anything new on the revenue shortfall and the players’ escrow?

Wyshynski: As of Friday, the NHLPA hadn’t decided what to do with the last paycheck due to the players for 2019-20, which is scheduled for April 15. They could opt to put some, all or none of it into an escrow payment to the owners for lost revenue this season.

But the NHLPA and the owners did finalize and process escrow payments for the 2018-19 season, which had been pending. The NHLPA confirmed that approximately $230 million will be released to the owners, while the players will get back about $80 million from their withholdings. Remember: The collective bargaining agreement mandates a 50-50 split in revenue between the owners and players, and escrow withholdings help to balance that split.

How does the NHL plan to stay relevant at a time where there are no games?

Kaplan: Just as your workplace has embraced Zoom, so, too, has the NHL. The league has gone all-in on the video-conferencing platform.

Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski take you around the NHL with the latest news, big questions and special guests every episode. Listen here »

It arranged media calls with most of the league’s superstars — Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid among many others — and has pumped out that content on all of its platforms, including releasing this commercial in honor of the postponed playoffs. Individual teams are arranging Zoom calls with their local reporters, while the NHL has organized some more lighthearted calls (a reunion between Patrick Marleau, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner), plus calls with coaches, as well as an international-outreach effort. For example, the league put on a call of Swedish players speaking Swedish for Swedish reporters. On what would have been the first night of the playoffs last week, the NHL arranged a virtual reunion with the entire St. Louis Blues team, which will be aired on NBC Sports on Monday night.

The NBA, meanwhile, is putting on a HORSE tournament, which are being filmed at players’ homes and aired on ESPN. Several NBA stars, WNBA players and NBA alumni signed on to participate. I asked Daly how ambitious the NHL would be with their alternate programming and if they could put on something similar.

“I actually think we’ve been remarkably active in creating all kinds of different content,” Daly said. “Our players have been super cooperative. With all due respect to the NBA, I think we’ve pushed out far more original content than any other sports league at this point in time, and I think that will continue.”

Have any more players tested positive? Have any positive cases recovered?

Wyshynski: The last positive test confirmed by the NHL was an unnamed Colorado Avalanche player on April 7, the third member of that franchise to contract coronavirus. The Avalanche were on a California road trip before the season was paused; so were the Ottawa Senators, the other NHL team impacted by COVID-19. Five Senators players, radio color analyst Gord Wilson and one staffer tested positive for COVID-19. But Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said on Wednesday that “they’re all on the other side of it now.”

What if the NHL restarts and a player opts not to return to the ice due to COVID-19 concerns?

Wyshynski: This could otherwise be called “The Roman Reigns Issue.” The WWE superstar recently opted out of WrestleMania and other events due to being immunocompromised and out of concern for his family contracting the virus. There are hundreds of players in the NHL; what if some of them aren’t keen on returning to play unless there’s a treatment or vaccine available?

Daly said that hasn’t been a topic of conversation in the NHL yet.

“Obviously, [the players] want to be healthy and safe,” he said. “If a particular player had a particular concern, we’ve had similar situations in the past, and we as a league have been sensitive and receptive to that situation. Obviously, if [concerns like this] become too widespread, then it becomes more problematic in terms of our ability to get back. But that will be handled up front. All indications at this point, as far as I can tell, is that the players are very anxious to get back.”

There’s no such thing as social distancing on the ice during a hockey game. Might some players be concerned? Eric Hartline-USA TODAY SportsIf the league is going to lose substantial revenue, how will that affect next season’s salary cap?

Kaplan: Let’s begin with this: Before the pandemic hit, the NHL was in really good shape. At the GM meetings in early March, Gary Bettman boasted — as he has the past few years — that the NHL was as robust as ever, especially as it plans to welcome Seattle for the 2021-22 season as its 32nd franchise (and accept Seattle’s $650 million expansion fee). The league told its general managers in early March that it projected the salary cap for next season would be between $84 million and $88.2 million. That would mean a minimum 3% increase from the $81.5 million limit this season. Obviously, that was according to projected revenues, and we know the league, which is quite gate-dependent, is taking a hit due to the pandemic.

“Whatever our salary cap is, or gets set at for next year, is something that we and the players’ association have to talk about and agree on,” Daly said on Friday. “Obviously, it looks pretty certain that there will be a pretty substantial shortfall in projected revenues, when we’re able to say the ’19-20 season is done. If we adhere to the formula that is in the CBA, that would produce a significantly lower cap than we’ve had this year. Which I don’t think is necessarily practical nor realistic, either, for the clubs or the players. So that’s obviously something we need to address with the players’ association.”

Is the NHL concerned about some ownership groups not being able to survive this shutdown, and the subsequent economic impact?

Wyshynski: Daly told us that “there’s certainly no indication that there are” reasons for the NHL to be concerned about its teams and team owners during the pandemic.

“I’ll go back to what I know to be the case: Our ownership is stronger than it’s ever been in the league’s history, financially,” he said. “The entire economy globally has taken an enormous, devastating hit. That certainly involves some of the businesses that our owners are in, significant losses of revenue and profitability. But we have no indication that any club is at the breaking point as far as not being able to meet its obligations to the National Hockey League.”

Finally, what’s your latest pop culture addiction this week?

Kaplan: I’ve rewatched the flu-epidemic episode of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” — Season 9, Episode 7: “The Gang Gets Quarantined” — twice since I’ve been stuck at home. It holds up really well. It’s available on Hulu (which is owned by Disney), for anyone looking for some on-the-nose humor.

Wyshynski: I’ve been tearing through sports documentaries lately. Having gone through the full run of 30 for 30 — and if you haven’t, they’re all on ESPN+ — a few other docs caught my attention this week. “Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story” (Amazon Prime) is equal parts a tribute to the heavyweight hockey champ’s fighting prowess and a sad examination of his off-ice demons. “Diego Maradona” (HBO) makes incredible use of archival footage in telling the story of the soccer legend; and the second season of “Dark Side of the Ring” (VICE) remains an illuminating look at pro wrestling’s most infamous figures and moments, kicking off with the complicated legacy of Chris Benoit. Give documentaries a spin if you’re looking for a sports fix.

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Categories
NHL

The NHL’s coronavirus pause – Latest on a possible return, playoffs, draft, Seattle and more

Although it feels like it’s been quite a bit longer, the NHL declared a “pause” on its 2019-20 season on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the theoretical possibility of hitting “unpause” and resuming the regular season and playoffs (or just the latter) in some fashion at some point in the future.

In the time since, there has been little in the way of clarity on that timeline, while there have been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in players, both on the Ottawa Senators (the identity of the players has remained confidential).

As we begin another week with no NHL hockey — a situation similar to what is transpiring in the overwhelming majority of other sports — let’s explore the various angles to the continuation of the pause.

Does the NHL have a timeline for when play could earliest resume?

Greg Wyshynski: The NHL remains on the timeline it established in a March 16 communication to the players, who were told to self-quarantine through March 27. The NHL hopes after that point to allow “the opening of club facilities to players in scheduled and coordinated small groups for voluntary training, and care of the players on the same basis as in the offseason.” It still hopes for “the potential of opening a training camp period roughly 45 days into the 60-day period covered by the CDC’s directive.”

But any plans by the NHL and its players are entirely contingent on federal and local restrictions on travel and social distancing. As we’ve seen, some regions are taking more stringent action than others. For example, the stay-at-home edict enacted by California’s governor last week meant residents were to stay at home “except for essential reasons like buying groceries or seeking medical care.” How would that affect the Sharks, Ducks and Kings players and staff attempting to use team facilities?

Arenas across the NHL are shut down until further notice. Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesWhat have the players said?

Emily Kaplan: Not much, via the media. In the week after the suspension, NHL players and teams largely shied away from interviews. That could change in the coming days, as the league understands the importance of staying relevant. The NHL initially told players to stay in their home cities, but it reversed course last week and told them they could self-quarantine anywhere, which led some European players to book trips to their home countries.

We’ve seen a few players do public service announcements — appearing in videos on either their personal or team social media accounts — reminding fans to stay safe. Connor McDavid released a video, alongside his bernedoodle, Lenny. “Like a lot of you, just stuck inside, practicing my social distancing, trying to control this thing before it gets out of hand,” McDavid said. “What one person does affects the other, and we all need to make sure that we’re being safe and taking all of the steps needed to stop the spread of this thing.”

While reminding everyone to keep “washing their hands,” Sabres captain Jack Eichel said, “We miss you at the rink, and I know everyone misses coming to the rink and playing in front of you.”

Meanwhile, the Bruins uploaded a video in which Brad Marchand revealed what his social distancing looks like: staying up late watching movies, painting and finding as many games as he can play in the house with his wife and kids. (He also has trimmed the hedges and “cleaned up every drawer and closet in the house.”)

We’ve also heard from Anze Kopitar and Anders Lee; had this cute video of Antoine Roussel rollerblading around his kitchen with his son; and seen Nicklas Backstrom try his driveway goalie chops. And if you check in on any player with an active Instagram account, he probably is doing that juggle-a-roll-of-toilet paper challenge:

Nous sommes tous ensemble devant cette adversité.

We’re all in this together. 👊

Sick pass to @LaurentDTardif 😏#StayAtHomeChallenge | @impactmontreal @MTLAlouettes#IsolésEnsemble #IsolatedTogether#GoHabsGo #IMFC #Montréals pic.twitter.com/lO7NCRZXfw

— Tomas Tatar (@TomasTatar90) March 20, 2020 Will there be a mini training camp when the NHL returns?

Kaplan: Yes. The NHL and NHLPA are meeting regularly, and they agreed that this a necessity. Players haven’t had access to ice and, in most cases, the professional-grade gyms and trainers they have in the offseason, so it would be unfair to ask them to jump right back on the ice in game situations — let alone in a playoff scenario. That would be an injury risk.

What that training camp will look like depends on when the league restarts. If public authorities deem it safe, teams will open their training facilities and allow players to get back on the ice or in the gym even before something formal is announced. For now, players have been asked to remain in self-quarantine until at least March 27.

Are players being tested?

Kaplan: NHL players are getting tested on a case-by-case basis. Those efforts are coordinated between the NHL, the NHLPA, the individual clubs and local health authorities, with input provided from infectious disease specialists. We haven’t seen full teams order tests for their players from private companies, like we’ve seen in the NBA, and according to sources, the NHL testing so far has focused mainly on those who are showing symptoms.

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So far, there have been two confirmed COVID-19 cases in the NHL: Both players are on the Senators, and they were part of the March 7-11 road trip that included games in San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. There were 52 people as part of Ottawa’s traveling party, which includes staff, media, guests and flight crew.

“Of those on the trip, 44 have shown no symptoms, eight people have been tested and two positive results were received,” the Senators said in a statement, noting they were still awaiting results from tests that occurred later in the week. A Senators spokeswoman told ESPN that testing for the players has been coordinated through Ottawa’s public health system.

The Florida Panthers said a part-time arena worker tested positive; that employee last worked at an event at the arena on March 8, for a concert. The Vancouver franchise said a member of Canucks Sports & Entertainment also tested positive, though that person does not have a fan-facing role and isn’t in contact with players.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN that as of Sunday morning, there hadn’t been another positive test for a player.

What’s the latest on arena and part-time staff compensation?

Wyshynski: After the Boston Bruins’ ownership finally released their plans on Saturday, every NHL team has now offered some promise of assistance for those game-night workers affected by the “pause” of the NHL season. But there’s a wide variance in how specific teams have gone about providing that aid, as well as when workers would get paid.

The Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres, for example, have decided to compensate workers only when the NHL cancels regular-season games, which it has not yet done. As the Bruins’ statement read: “The Jacobs Family has established a $1.5 million fund for the Boston Bruins and TD Garden part-time gameday associates who will be financially burdened if the six remaining regular season Bruins games are not played.”

Is there a cutoff date when the league would just cancel the rest of the 2019-20 season?

Kaplan: If there is, the NHL hasn’t shared that date publicly. The NHL has made a stance, however, that it wants to do everything it can to have a complete and “relatively normal” 2020-21 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN’s Get Up last week that he believed that under the current circumstances, the league can “go later than we’ve ever gone.”

“How late is a good question,” Bettman said. “What we want to make sure of is that we don’t do anything from this season that might impact next season and having the normalcy it is supposed to have. So the two factors are timing relative to how late we can go without impacting next season, and making sure that whatever we do competitively, if we are going to complete this current season, it has to have integrity, and it has to be respectful of the well-over-100-year history of the Stanley Cup. And that’s something we’re very focused on.”

play

1:53

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discusses the league’s plans to conclude the regular season and when the Stanley Cup playoffs could begin.

Any word on what this all means for the NHL draft? How would the lottery work if the season is canceled?

Wyshynski: There are calls with both the board of governors and the NHL’s general managers this week, and one assumes this topic will come up. It isn’t just teams well outside the playoff picture that are curious. Consider the Arizona Coyotes, who are right now out of the postseason seedings and whose first-round pick in the Taylor Hall trade with New Jersey is top-three-protected. Consider the Vancouver Canucks, who are out of the playoffs in points but could be in through points percentage and whose first-rounder belongs to Tampa Bay from the J.T. Miller trade. If the Canucks make the playoffs, the pick goes to the Bolts; if they miss, it defers to next season.

Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski take you around the NHL with the latest news, big questions and special guests every episode. Listen here »

As for the draft itself, scheduled for Montreal on June 26 and 27, the NHL told ESPN on Sunday that it hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to postpone that event or modify it. Same goes for the NHL Awards, which were expected to be held earlier that week in Las Vegas.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on scouting could be considerable. The International Ice Hockey Federation’s cancellation of the world under-18 championships in Michigan took away a great “last impressions” showcase for draft prospects from around the world. Travel restrictions and the cancellations of seasons at all levels have further impacted scouting.

Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, told the league’s website that the final rankings for North American skaters and goalies is expected by mid-April and will be determined through teleconferencing. Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting Services, will provide the ranking of the top international skaters and goalies.

Has any of this affected the Seattle expansion team’s timeline?

Wyshynski: Yes. The team, scheduled to debut in the 2021-22 season, sold many of its premium ticket plans starting last fall and has delayed payments on those plans until July. General seat selection was slated to begin in March, using a facility called the “Seattle Preview Center,” which would have allowed fans to choose their seats on a large model of the arena. Now the team might instead use a virtual space for those ticket buyers.

Finally, the thing you’re probably most curious about: The team’s name and logos could be revealed while fans are social distancing or self-quarantining.

“In theory, coronavirus will not delay our name and will not affect it, but we’re in unprecedented times. So I can’t say that as soon as the legal process is wrapped up that we’ll go with the name. We’re working as hard as we can. We know how badly our fans want it,” said Katie Townsend, vice president of corporate communications at NHL Seattle.

The NHL might have to consider alternatives to the glitzy awards show it stages each summer in Las Vegas. Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty ImagesWhat happens to the awards if the rest of the season is canceled?

Wyshynski: As of now, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association voting on the awards has been paused along with the regular season. One assumes the league treats this season’s awards like they would in a lockout-shortened season, when they are still handed out even after an incomplete campaign.

Absent an awards event, the NHL would probably announce the winner of each one via some form of media release. The intrigue — selfishly, for your authors — is whether the league would still have the PHWA, the Professional Hockey Broadcasters Association (which votes on the Jack Adams Award) and the NHL’s general managers (who vote on the Vezina Trophy) choose the award winners this season; or, due to the circumstances and the shifted timeline, would the NHL simply select the award winners via its hockey operations department? Let’s hope, for the sake of precedent, it’s not the latter scenario.

Are those who purchased tickets getting refunds?

Wyshynski: No. It’s like the end of a horse race, before the results are official: “Please hold all tickets.”

Most NHL teams are following the league’s “season pause” pronouncement and are not offering refunds until the games are officially canceled. The Senators, for example, told their fans that “all tickets purchased for postponed games remain valid and will provide entry to the same game on the rescheduled date.” And if you can’t make the date of a postponed game? “Decisions on transferring tickets between games will be made once the schedule has been confirmed by the NHL,” the team said.

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The Philadelphia Flyers have told fans that “tickets for canceled games or games played with no fans present” will be eligible for “credits and/or refunds” from the team.

This goes for ticket purchasers from third parties, as well. StubHub is not issuing any refunds for tickets unless the game is formally canceled. When it is, ticket buyers have the option of a refund of the original order amount via the original payment method or a “StubHub coupon worth 120% of your original order” that can be applied to future purchases.

NHL teams also are taking action for season-ticket holders, in particular for next season’s payments. The Nashville Predators, for example, have delayed automatic payments that were scheduled for April 1. The Chicago Blackhawks are pausing all renewal plan payments and have extended the payment deadline to renew season tickets for 2020-21 for an indefinite period.

What are teams doing to keep fans interested?

Kaplan: The NHL joined other pro leagues in temporarily offering content on their streaming service for free. Replays of all 2019-20 games as well as select classic games are free through April 30 on NHL.tv.

Individual teams also are looking for ways to get creative. On Thursday, we got a slate of five virtual games on EA SPORTS NHL 20, with several of the actual NHL clubs live-tweeting and commentating through it. The Devils even conducted an interview with the real Cory Schneider afterward, in which he analyzed his virtual self’s 98-save performance.

The Blackhawks summoned fan-favorite Marian Hossa to reflect on a 2010 playoff game before they aired it on TV. The Washington Capitals’ broadcast partner, NBC Sports Washington, plans to air video game simulations of the Caps’ (and NBA Wizards’) remaining regular-season games. The Golden Knights launched a virtual book club.

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