One reason why I'm really looking forward to the new season getting underway is because I'm looking forward to getting to hear from Braden Holtby and Nate Schmidt on a regular basis.
Schmidt — we already saw what a positive, high-energy guy he is in his introductory Zoom call last month.
Holtby, I was learning more about over the past couple of weeks as I was doing research for another project. I knew about his involvement with LGBTQ+ causes in Washington, but I didn't know that his activism was triggered by a visit that he and his wife, Brandi, made to the Human Rights Campaign Action Center in San Francisco's Castro District during their honeymoon.
For the most part, Holtby's a pretty low-key guy. He admits that it was his wife's influence that got him interested in these causes, and that he understands that there's value in using his platform as a way to help give back.
Seems like a really decent human being. And if you've been reading for awhile, you know that I'm a big believer in the magic that Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark can weave. I'm pretty confident that Holtby will deliver a solid season in a Canucks uniform — then, quite possibly, get selected by Seattle in the expansion draft. A lot will determine how the Vancouver goalies are used next season, but I'd expect something close to a 50-50 split, perhaps leaning a little more heavily on Thatcher Demko if he continues to deliver like he did in the bubble during the playoffs.
This, of course, is my big preamble to Holtby's headlines this week — that he's stuck at the U.S.-Canada border as he makes his way to Vancouver, because he didn't have the proper paperwork for the family's two tortoises.
Hey Twitter, does anyone have any sweet connections with Federal Fish and Wildlife that could push some export papers along in order to get two happy tortoises across the border? 🇨🇦🐢🐢🇺🇸 We miss our boys!
With Braden not on Twitter, I guess this family dynamic is similar to Cristina Marleau, who handles all the social media obligations for her husband Patrick — another low-key Saskatchewan boy, like Holtby.
By the way, the tortoises are named Honey and Maple — so that Timbits reference is probably quite fitting. And yes, they are pretty cute.
I don’t know why anyone would possibly want to see tortoise content... 🙄 it’s not like there’s anything cute about Honey eating lunch... it definitely doesn’t sound adorable. 😛 pic.twitter.com/17VgFlNuQR
I'd been feeling a bit melancholy about the thought that Phoebe Stecher, the Bernese mountain dog, will likely be off to Detroit with her dad when the new season starts, instead of tearing around the off-leash dog park on the Yaletown seawall. But tortoises are a fascinating and exotic replacement on a club that is filled with passionate dog owners.
After those very popular dog races last year, I wonder if the Canucks would let Honey and Maple go head-to-head between periods of a game? Maybe not enough time for them to race the full length of the ice? And I guess we have to wait until there are some fans in the stands before we get between-periods entertainment again. I just realized that I didn't miss that at all when I was in Edmonton for the playoffs.
We're at an odd stage in the return-to-play planning right now — the league still talking about a Jan. 1 start date and more players starting to return to their club cities — especially the ones who do need to cross international borders and spend time in quarantine before they can start practicing. But at the same time, we're seeing Covid case numbers on the rise all across North America and new restrictions being put in place in many jurisdictions — not really an optimal scenario for teams to get back to playing in their own rinks and travelling between cities for what sounds like it could be a 60-game schedule.
And then you've got the money issue, which has finally come to a head. Pro-rating salaries is off the table — that was a total non-starter for players. So the league has come up with some alternative methods of balancing the books — involving the possibility of having the players defer *more* of their salaries from this season on top of the 10 percent they'd already agreed on, and the prospect of increased escrow.
As Elliotte Friedman puts it, "recognize that — to players — “escrow” is the dirtiest word in the dictionary. There’s nothing else even close."
So, it's no wonder that they're feeling "angry and betrayed" (also Friedman's words) about having these issues back on the table just four months after they made significant sacrifices to get the new CBA ratified and put the wheels in motion for the summer playoffs.
Of course, the league is correct when it points out that the 50/50 revenue split that's dictated in the CBA means the players are going to have to pay back money back at some point, if league revenues for the year end up even lower than last summer's worst-case projections due to less-than-82-games and limited-at-best fan capacity for the foreseeable future. Owners want to do whatever they can to limit how much they need to pay out when they don't have much money coming in. But for players, the timing of those repayments matters. Different guys will carry more of the burden at different times, depending on their career arcs and how their contracts are structured.
That could set up in-fighting within the Players' Association, where everyone's situation is different. Taking a bigger hit now would favour a guy like Elias Pettersson, whose big-money deal is coming up down the road. Pushing back the balancing of the books by three or four years would be beneficial to veterans like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who'd be able to squeeze all they can out of their big contracts that have three years remaining, before the rubber meets the road.
The general consensus seems to be that while this financial stalemate is a significant, ugly hurdle — and reflects badly on both sides as rich people fight with each other over money at a time when many regular folks are facing much tougher challenges — the two sides will find a way to get past it, and hopefully without delaying the return-to-play plans too significantly.
Players already got their return to the Olympics mandated into the new CBA. Friedman suggests maybe they can bargain for something else they'd like to help settle this matter. As he says, "If I was a player, I might demand expanded playoffs in exchange for accepting any alterations to the agreement. It’s time and wouldn’t it increase revenues?"
I see the logic of that. And there's no better time than the present, when we've seen what a 24-team tournament looks like.
Lots to be sorted out. And the clock is ticking...