Gentlemen, we understand we're not going to get anywhere until the NHL and players agree on a return-to-play salary structure. But Darren, Gary Bettman may have some issues with his ownership as well.
Dreger: Yeah, I think he's faced ownership frustration right from the onset from the originality of the agreement with the National Hockey League Players' Association. But obviously both sides are frustrated here. There's been some speculation, you know what if the owners decide that they can't go in '20-'21 [and] they cancel the season. Does that put the Players' Association in a position where they can challenge that move in federal court, effectively calling it an illegal lockout? But the owners say if that's the case then force majeure would be applied, it is a pandemic. And the NHL believes that in the spirit of their existing agreement, they've got cancellation protection. And if they had to cancel, they wouldn't have to make do on the player salaries. But nobody wants to cancel '20-'21.
LeBrun: And it's important to note that at this hour the NHLPA has really stuck to its guns that it hasn't agreed to anything beyond the terms already negotiated four or five months ago and the MOU (memorandum of understanding) and the CBA extension. That could change, but at this point they are very much in their resolve in believing that the NHL should honor those terms. Now in the meantime, the NHLPA had a return to play committee call and they'd been holding them regularly. But certainly, as Dregs mentioned, some growing frustration. One member of that committee telling me today that, you know, he's frustrated by the lack of urgency that he perceives from the NHL side. That this should be the time that both sides firm up plans for the season. And that's not happening because of this financial stalemate. So we'll see where this goes but certainly the players feel that time is being wasted right now.
And after asking when we'll be back, the next question is, of course, what will it league like when we do come back, Frank?
Seravalli: The focus at this point and the preference of both owners and players, is to open the '20-'21 season in all 31 buildings around the league. The reason for that is both from a revenue side and from a lifestyle side having players home with their families as much as possible that the schedule will allow. And moving forward, though, the big question is with the numbers skyrocketing around North America, the COVID numbers, will they be able to pull this off with local and regional health authorities? We've seen in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers had to move their games to Arizona for the next two weeks. The NHL recognizes now that they're going to have to be flexible with their schedule moving forward, potentially putting teams to play in neutral sites. Hybrid bubbles remain a backup option, but it's something that no one really wants to go into a bubble at this point after being in one for so long to close out last season.
LeBrun: While a lot of those matters remain in flux, one thing that seems pretty locked in is the idea of coming back with four realigned divisions. One of course because of the border being the all Canadian division and then you get your three U.S. divisions. But, I checked with a source today who suggested still not a firm decision on exactly how those U.S. divisions will look like. There are some swing teams that you can put in a couple of different divisions. You know, Pittsburgh (Penguins) could be in the Central or in the East (division) with the rival (Philadelphia) Flyers. The Penguins would rather be east. Minnesota (Wild), St. Louis (Blues) and Dallas (Stars) all central time zone teams that could be in the West (division) or it could be in the Central (division) that still has to be resolved where all those teams end up.
And there's one potential upside to the delay in the start of this new NHL season, Darren, it might actually help team Canada's chances of having access to first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere.
Dreger: Well Team Canada is hopeful but there's certainly no guarantee of that. Time now is of the essence. Team Canada needs to know within the next few days, I would say for safety reasons. Alexis Lafreniere has been training with the New York Rangers near New York City. He's been there since early November. There's no guarantee, there's no decision that's been made just yet. They're in a holding pattern right now. The biggest concern from the NHL team's perspective of course would be injury. Lafreniere got injured last year in the World Junior Championship. The Rangers need to have them available if there is an opening night.