We’re not suggesting that an MLB-type public squabble is going to break out during the NHL’s negotiations with the NHLPA as the parties attempt to craft a safe, sane and equitable way to put hockey’s 24-team tournament on the ice this summer, but no one should expect the players to simply roll over and accept Sixth Avenue’s wishes as dictates.
This is going to apply to the big stuff, as in: A) How to design protocols that protect the players’ health and safety as much as possible through training camp then through the tournament; B) How to craft regulations that allow players to have some reasonable sort of independence while bivouacked in a hub city for up to 10 weeks for those who make it to the finals; and, C) How to manage what will be a 2019-20 escrow burden of an additional 14 percent if the tournament is indeed played to completion.
But it is going to apply to some of the small print stuff, as well, and may I say right at the top that disagreement between the two sides does not automatically equate to the NHLPA being obstructionist, greedy or selfish in the midst of a pandemic that has shattered the continent’s ecosystem.
Always remember. It takes two sides to fight over money. It takes two sides to fight over regulations that are included in the CBA. Being “collaborative” is welcome if the effort is mutual. Being “collaborative” is the means to an end, not an endgame unto itself.
So we can tell you the union stridently opposes the NHL’s stance that teams should not be permitted to sign players from their respective reserve lists to 2019-20 contracts so they can participate in the tournament. It is the union’s position, and a quite reasonable one, that the matter should revert to the status quo if the sides do not agree to changing the CBA regulation that is in force.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly misrepresented the matter in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, citing the trade deadline that had come and gone on Feb. 24 and calling potential additions “ringers, for lack of a better term.”
Except the trade deadline comes and goes every season before teams add players whose college or European league seasons have ended. Except no one was calling Cale Makar, “a ringer” when he joined the Avalanche for the playoffs last season after taking UMass to the Frozen Four final, and nobody hung that appellation around Chris Kreider’s neck when he joined the Blueshirts in 2012 after leading BC to the NCAA title.
The Wild would like the opportunity to sign and play winger Kirill Kaprizov, the fifth-rounder from 2015 whose CSKA Moscow team’s season has ended. The Islanders would like the opportunity to sign goaltender Ilya Sorokin, also of CSKA Moscow. The Rangers would like to have the ability to sign Cornell winger Morgan Barron and give him a shot at cracking the lineup. There are others, though hardly a horde.
Had COVID-19 not interrupted the season and the Rangers had made the playoffs, even if Barron’s top-ranked Red had won the NCAA title at the Frozen Four, scheduled to conclude on April 11, the junior would have been available to the Blueshirts beginning with the second week of the tournament.
So why change the rule now that, in fact, the league cannot change unilaterally? The PA will have to agree to the change that, if it goes into effect, would deny players the opportunity to burn the first year of their respective entry level contracts. The PA, we’re told, has no desire to agree to this change and intends to dig in. The union feels as strongly on this as does the league, which never mentioned the burn-year consideration while detailing its stance.
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So this will become a matter of collective bargaining, linked to changing contract dates, linked to discussing whether signing bonuses due on July 1 will remain due on July 1, linked to smoothing 2019-20 escrow payments over multiple years rather than next season, as the CBA prescribes.
The league and the union have a mountain of critical issues to sort through in order to make summer hockey a reality. This contract matter may not rise to quite that level, but it surely is going to be contested. And if indeed this becomes a flashpoint of contention, this does not mean the union is no longer being “collaborative” or the players are being “selfish.”
We’re told that the PA’s Return to Play Committee, that has been essential in working with the league on the 24-team return, will likely be dissolved once the parties nail down the final details of the tournament.
Bracketing vs. reseeding, and determining whether the first two rounds of the 16-team playoffs will be best-of-five or best-of-seven are the outstanding items on the docket. They are expected to be resolved this week.
There has been no talk, at least as of now, of introducing new playing rules for the tournament. And there has been no suggestion that the league will propose, as a safety measure, making full face shields mandatory. That’s one the PA would be expected to oppose.
The NHL’s desire to name a Canadian locale as one of its two hub cities has nothing to do with nationalism or TV ratings but instead everything to do with the currency issue and potential significant savings on expenses. Today, $100 U.S. equates to $139 in Canadian money.
So, the statistical book on the regular season has closed and with that, Jimmy Howard has achieved the dubious distinction of becoming just the sixth goaltender in NHL history to play in as many as 25 games while winning two or fewer.
Howard, who went an astonishing 2-23-2 in 27 games for the Red Wings, thus joins a list that includes Wilf Cude of the 1930-31 expansion Philadelphia Quakers (2-23-3); Michel Belhumeur of the 1974-75 expansion Capitals (0-24-3); Michel Dion of the 1983-84 tanking Penguins (2-19-4); Daniel Berthiaume of the 1992-93 expansion Senators (2-17-1); and, Jeff Hackett of the 1992-93 expansion Sharks (2-30-1).
Finally, just have to say that it’s a good day when Wilf Cude makes Slap Shots.