The NHL wants to return to work. The players also want to return. But the league is trying to change the new CBA which they recently have agreed to and the players, well, don’t want to. Who can blame them? They have made many concessions for this agreement to work and return to play. But with COVID returning stronger than ever, it seems like the start of the 2021 season is in jeopardy. Just recently, the pandemic was hitting the World Juniors’ teams, some NHL teams had to close their training facilities, and other sports teams were also affected. Other leagues are postponing, even cancelling their season. NHL scouts haven’t been able to do their work for months now. The NHL’s return to play is up in the air more than ever.
You see, the NHL is run by a commissioner who is used to getting his way. The only time Gary Bettman didn’t lockout the players while negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was just prior to the last return to play. Those were definitely unusual circumstances and, let’s face it, the players made the biggest concessions. Each and every other time, he used the lockout to make the NHLPA crack. So now that he’s not getting his way by asking the NHLPA to reopen the CBA, what do you think the odds are that he could use that same tactic?
Effect on the Canadiens
Marc Bergevin has done an outstanding job this off-season and a lockout is the last thing that he’d want to see. Everyone in Montreal is chomping at the bit to get started. He has everything in place to get training camp going, but the pandemic has other ideas, due in part by the population not taking it seriously. In Canada, conspiracy theorists are trying to convince the masses against the Governments’ actions, playing on the population’s frustrations. In the US, it’s due in large part to a delusional President who can’t even admit defeat when faced with it. All of this combined, COVID-19 is showing its ugly face once again. The Habs and the rest of the NHL are on standby.
The effects of cancelling the season for the Canadiens would be substantial. For one, team captain Shea Weber will be a year older and the inaction is not a good thing for the aging defenseman. He is the leader of that defense, their best defenseman and the team relies on him in all situations. Weber is the one facing the opposition’s top line night in, night out. He kills penalties. He mans the point on the powerplay. But his legs are showing signs of slowing down, and that won’t improve with time.
The Habs also have Tomas Tatar on a team-friendly contract, with a cap hit of $4.8 million, with Vegas paying the other $500,000 of his salary. He becomes a UFA after the 2021 season. Cancelling it would likely mean that the one they call Tuna will have likely played his last game in a Habs’ uniform.
As we know, the salary cap is determined by league revenues. If the season was to be cancelled, there would be no TV rights being paid to the league. Even their gimmick and money-grab of Reverse-Retro jerseys would suffer.
Players also impacted
The first player impacted that comes to mind has been making headlines recently. Phillip Danault feels like he’s made concessions (?) with his last contract and he’s not planning on doing the same for the next one. Well guess what Phillip? Looking at other players with your production and role, at the same stage in their career, you did not make substantial concessions. What does he think the effect of losing the 2021 season would have on league revenues? And since the cap is based on revenues, what does he think the effect would be? What if the cap goes down? Does Danault think that he’ll get what he’s asking for today, or even what the Canadiens are offering him now?
Some of this year’s UFAs are still looking for a contract because they are asking too much. Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry have left money on the table due to COVID. If Danault thinks he’s better, he’s got something coming…
In addition to Danault and Tatar, Joel Armia and Jordan Weal would become UFAs. While the later is a dime a dozen, Armia brings size, skills and defensive awareness as well as much needed quality depth on the right side. Of course, the addition of Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli on long-term deals would soften the blow but you don’t replace an Armia like you would a Weal.
It would also mean that the Canadiens would have to negotiate new contracts with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete as restricted free agents (without arbitration rights), and Artturi Lehkonen, also a RFA but with arbitration rights.
Accelerated Expansion Draft
And in comes Seattle… yes, after the 2021 season comes the Expansion Draft. Teams would then have to submit their protection list and the Draft would occur. None of the NHL teams would be able to see players perform for the 2021 season and given the opportunity to make calculated evaluations. While 24 teams played in the “return-to-play” rounds and playoffs, seven teams and their players haven’t played since March 2020. Not only would this complicate things for teams trying to figure out their protection list, but it would highly impact the Krakens, who wouldn’t be able to scout teams to decide which players they will select in their Expansion Draft.
All in all, if Bettman choses to lockout the players, not only will he screw the players as would be his intentions, but he would do the same to his teams… including his expansion team who paid a huge price to join the league. If he choses to go that way, he should be fired on the spot. Fans were already tired of his antics, particularly his tactics when it comes to negotiating CBAs. I don’t think they’d be very pleased to have to wait for COVID, then wait for Bettman. Both would seem to be viruses equally toxic to the game. Go Habs Go!