Topics in this edition of the mailbag look at the possibility of contraction, the latest from Seattle, injuries, next season’s salary cap, Kirill Kaprizov’s situation, and how postseason taxi squads may be comprised. If your question doesn’t appear here, look for it in last weekend’s mailbag.
@rphx88: Is there a possibility that the league could contract a team do to the financial losses of the Coronavirus? I would think the Arizona Coyotes would make sense with Las Vegas in the fold and the league could return to 30 teams.
At this point in time, I suppose anything is possible. While we have a better idea of what the NHL has planned for their return, it’s still not the most economically viable strategy. It’s one thing to play without fans for a short stretch to finish a season that has had most of its regular season games played but it’s another to ask teams to play into next year without fans which is a real possibility if there is a second wave (or more) of the virus. At that point, it would be tough for lower-revenue teams to stay afloat.
Having said that, I don’t think contraction is in the cards anytime soon. For that to happen, Alex Meruelo would basically have to turn the keys into the league and the NHL wouldn’t be able to find a local buyer. Then they wouldn’t be able to find a non-local buyer. I get that the current picture isn’t ideal from an economic standpoint but for cities with an NHL-quality arena in place that are hoping to get an expansion franchise or a relocated one, they’re not all going to pass up on the opportunity to get one. In this particular scenario, it might even be a below-market pickup.
I don’t think the Coyotes are in any particular danger. Meruelo appears to have given them some stability so I wouldn’t be concerned about them being contracted. Besides, Seattle is still on the way so even if a team was contracted now, they’d be back at 31 pretty soon. Speaking of which…
mydadleftme: How do you think this will change things with Seattle joining the league?
This might actually work out in their favor when all is said and done when it comes to readiness. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times noted last month that construction on the revamped arena has continued during the pandemic as it was deemed essential by the city. Unless things have been considerably delayed along the way (and that doesn’t appear to be the case at this point), they should be ready to go for puck drop in 2021-22.
When that puck drop will be remains to be seen. With 2020-21 appearing to be on track for a delayed start by a couple of months, it’s quite possible that 2021-22 doesn’t start in early October either. That would allow for a little bit more time to get KeyArena prepped and ready to go and would offset any potential slowdowns in construction between now and then.
From a hockey operations standpoint, nothing really changes. Whenever next season happens, their scouts will be out in full force (if they’re allowed to be; video scouting may be used even more over the next year or two) to aid in the preparation for the expansion draft. In the meantime, they’ll be sitting and waiting for games to resume like everyone else.
met man: There were quite a few major injuries prior to the shutdown. What injured players would be ready to play if the league is restarted soon?
Also, is the Seattle team officially named yet?
Let’s wrap up the Seattle talk and do the second one first. The team name hasn’t been revealed yet and with the current situation, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If the NHL’s return plans get up and running, they probably won’t want the team name being announced during the playoffs and taking any attention away from it either.
At this point, most players are ready to return now and if we’re a couple of months away from restarting, even more will be able to come back by then. Among the notables that are believed to be cleared to return are Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh), Seth Jones (Columbus), Dougie Hamilton (Carolina), Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis). There are many more beyond that.
This actually creates a very intriguing dimension for this postseason if it happens. Instead of going in with a few players out and some nursing minor aches and pains, most teams are going to be fully healthy or very close to it. Of course, with being off for so long, there will be additional risks for small issues that often plague players during training camp and those will be exacerbated by effectively going from not playing to playoff games instead of the preseason. This will undoubtedly be a unique postseason and player health is certainly going to be a big part of that.
coachdit: Earlier this year prior to the season being halted there was an article proposing an $84-$88.2 million salary cap for next season. With current economic conditions, when they finally settle on a figure do you think it’s in the $84-$88MM range, or an unchanged $81.5MM, or a retraction down to say $80MM, or worse? My assumption is the unchanged $81.5MM, I’m curious what you think.
At this point, it’s safe to throw the higher cap numbers out the window. While the postseason games would allow them to at least collect TV and advertising revenues, they’re still going to be without fans which play a big part in the bottom line through ticket sales and concessions. Hockey-related revenues are going down from last season as a result and HRR is a big factor in what sets the cap. Even on the extremely rare chance that HRR went up, the NHLPA wouldn’t opt to use their inflator in an effort to reduce escrow.
Yes, the dreaded e-word. Get used to hearing it even more often than usual when it comes to the salary cap discussions. Teams don’t want the Upper Limit of the cap to go down as that will create an even tougher situation to stay in compliance. (Compliance buyouts don’t seem to have a lot of support either.) The players won’t want to accept rollbacks so keeping escrow at a somewhat reasonable number is going to be the key.
Like you, I think that the cap will remain unchanged at $81.5MM for next season and I wouldn’t be surprised if they set the 2021-22 cap at that or only marginally higher at the same time. They know they’re two years out from the next CBA so there aren’t many long-term ramifications as a result. If they can agree on a two-year negotiated cap, they may be able to smooth the escrow over the two years instead of a really ugly hit next season. It’s far from a perfect scenario but as is the case with many things in the sports world right now, the focus is shifting from the perfect plan to the least unideal one.
Lindros88: Will Kaprizov cross the pond?
Just when it looked like we were finally going to be able to escape this question that has basically been out there for four years, we have a new wrinkle in play. The NHL doesn’t plan to lift the restriction they instituted at the beginning of the pandemic that said 2019-20 contracts were no longer allowed even though players on reserve lists had signed during the playoffs as recently as last year. That was what was supposed to happen with Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov as it would allow him to play right away and burn a cheap entry-level year quickly. That’s now off the table.
The other factor now at play is the start of the 2020-21 season which is in question but it seems like December is a reasonable start point. The KHL starts up in September and expiring contracts end April 30th in a normal year. At this point, it appears they’re still operating with that timeline in mind. Does Kaprizov want to sit for effectively nine months from the time the KHL shut down to the start of next season? That’s not appealing from his perspective or even Minnesota’s. Seeing a player that they view as a top prospect sitting for that long isn’t ideal.
To answer your question, yes, I do think he will come over. But I’m a lot less certain about it being for the start of next season. A one-year KHL deal that would allow him to play there and then come over late in the season (the end of April may still be the regular season next year because of the scheduling) seems pretty appealing from his perspective. With normal in-season contract rules applying, he’d still be able to burn the ELC year quickly and get to stay at home a bit longer. Kaprizov will eventually be in a Wild uniform but the wait may wind up being a little longer yet.
@bk656: Should the NHL return, do you guys think there would be expanded rosters in case a player gets injured or contracts COVID-19?
Yes, there will be expanded rosters. I was particularly curious to see how things would have played out had the regular season resumed. There would have been a need for some extra players but with a lot of teams up against the Upper Limit of the salary cap, that would have been a tricky proposition. However, with the focus now shifting towards going straight to the postseason, the cap doesn’t apply so that won’t be an issue.
Playoff teams typically carry taxi squads as long as their AHL team isn’t in the postseason. With the AHL season over though, there won’t be any teams that will have a limited group of players to draw from so it’s nice that it’s an equal playing field to work with instead of some teams having more players available than others. The question is going to be how many are allowed in the hub city. In the past, some teams basically brought up their entire AHL team to skate as Black Aces in the NHL playoffs but that’s not likely to happen here.
I suspect we’re going to see teams trying to carry two sets of extra players. One would be in the hub city and would consist of the players that would be most likely to enter the lineup. I could see that being capped at 30 players per team, enough to have some extras at each position but nothing overly excessive either. Meanwhile, in the club cities (assuming distancing requirements have been lessened), there would be a smaller second group effectively going through a conditioning camp with the AHL coaching staff and would be called upon to go to the hub city if injuries strike. It’s going to be an odd setup but everything else is going to be odd for this postseason so why should this be any different?