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Early camps for the unlucky 7, and a calm before the storm? Updated

October 20, 2020, 10:52 PM ET [18 Comments]
Jeremy Laura
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Some new insight and a quick update. TSN reporting player salary expectations:

“The NHLPA has been operating on the belief this entire time that as soon as the players play one game in the 2020-21 season, that they will receive all of their stated salary minus 20 per cent for escrow and 10 per cent for a salary deferral.”

There is talk (finally) of a reduced season. Starting in January and trying to get 82 games plus playoffs while working around the Olympics is, frankly, dangerous. The question NOW arises, will salaries be prorated? I was unaware of the salary deferral of 10%. Players are losing 30% off the top (10 will come back). Tax brackets for anyone making over 1 million will hit anywhere from 30 - 50% depending on state/province. Agent fees still have to be calculated. I’ll state it again, players need to have all taxes deferred (or as much as possible) and get a very good (honest) accountant.

Steve Yzerman is holding at the table as far as additional moves are concerned. I expect Mantha and Bertuzzi to be completed soon, and that will take just over half of the 20 million in cap space (not including Zetterberg’s final year of cap relief). It’s a good place to be while teams contend for the remaining UFAs, internal contracts and prepare to shed $. Interesting times are still ahead as far as the rosters are concerned.

On Insider trading , Lebrun addressed a few different issues. Chicago is now broadcasting what we suspected (rebuild), Toronto isn’t sweating cap space, and there is an eerie quiet before another storm. In particular, the NHL/NHLPA haven’t met in the three weeks since the Stanley Cup was awarded. There is a joint group in charge of the “return to play”, and they’re not speaking yet.

There’s no need to panic, but the current status is “internal audits” for both the players and the owners/GMs. The good news so far? The 7 teams that weren’t part of the post season are allowed to have camps start earlier than everyone else. The Red Wings will be on the ice! Eventually! It was a smart move as teams enter an 8th consecutive month with no on ice competition. Well done folks.

The other items on the dockets are the aforementioned internal audits as well as updates on the AHL. Let’s take the AHL first. The commitment of an early December start is ambitious, and likely unrealistic. One sign, in particular, is GMs sending players to Swedish and Finnish elite leagues. Yzerman is on the board of the AHL return to play and has multiple players in leagues that aren’t expected to release players before the season ends. Seider, Veleno, and Lucas Raymond are all in it for the season. Seider and Veleno would likely have started in the AHL in a normal year. Rasmussen, Hronek, and Zadina are all in leagues with an opt out. Any players going to the KHL will have to buy out their own contract to leave (it’s weird, but true). Yzerman seems content for the development the elite leagues have, but Seider had been in a different league with a transfer agreement before he was sent to Sweden. I think the reality of an AHL season may be a 50/50 proposition, and some prospects aren’t going to be risked.

What we found of from Gary Bettman was that the NHL relies on in game attendance for 50% of its revenue. We don’t have the number, but the AHL relies on it much more. Back to the issues the GMs are auditing, what did “the bubble” do to, or for revenues? We don’t have the numbers. I’ve guessed that roughly 200 million could be added to last year’s deficit between declining TV revenues, non existent gate revenues, additional expenses relating to the bubble formats, and the potential “charge back” of local market TV contracts it paints a daunting picture. The principle of having a post season may well have outweighed the fiscal resources, and the debate on whether it was the right move (not questioning the care taken for players, that was excellent) for the league as a whole could be on the table. If, indeed, the over billion dollar loss gains another 20%, renegotiations and potential relocations (or shut downs) could still be a reality. Some teams just don’t have the capitol to wait out the storm.

The GMs perspective is fiscal. Can the sport be brought back and at least be self sustaining? With a guaranteed 20% escrow on the table that certainly helps matters, there are still far more numbers to crunch. The players perspective is multi-faceted. Not only the fiscal realities (escrow being set, but do per diem, guaranteed time off during the season, road accommodations etc have to be revamped?) but there is a large mental health component. The league can create a bubble (that may or may not be financially sustainable) but several players felt an immense negative impact in that scenario. We don’t know how many, but the rumblings made it clear that there was a very real and difficult struggle amongst the players. The bubble may not work for either side.

In my “days of silence” I’ve done my best to listen. What is happening internally with player movement? Are players with existing NHL deals negotiating in the KHL, SEL, or Finnish Elite Leagues where they cannot easily go back to North America? Rumblings of Kovulchuk, but not much else at this point. The small bits that are coming out are still “padding” the eventual announcements. The free agent frenzy came and went and teams have set themselves up (for the most part) before shedding dollars. If Yzerman and 6 other GMs are planning on early camps (guessing December 1st?) then there is just about 6 weeks to have a lot of things settled and in place. As they start to line up, i’ll do my best to provide insight and facilitate discussions. I don’t want to see the sport take more unnecessary hits, but I don’t think we know the full extent of last year’s damage yet.
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