TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun and TSN Senior Hockey Reporter Frank Seravalli join host Gino Reda to discuss where the Blackhawks' letter to their fans leaves Chicago's veterans, if there is an idea of a possible starting point for next season and how the Leafs have managed their cap situation thus far.
What does the Blackhawks’ message to fans mean for the veterans?
Chicago sent an open letter to their fans on Tuesday committing to “rebuilding our roster.” What does this mean to what’s left of the Stanley Cup core?
LeBrun: Well, first on that message sent to fans through the team website. It’s very similar to what the New York Rangers did a few years ago when the Rangers announced their rebuild. I’d say the difference right now is that the Blackhawks have already been doing their rebuild, it’s just that they decided to come out and be really honest and transparent about where that is. And the fact is they want to continue to get younger and accumulate other young players. But when it comes to Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, they want those guys to be part of this rebuild. In fact, general manager Stan Bowman had a video call a few days ago with those four to further explain where the Blackhawks are going and what they plan to do. Now, we’ll see how those players react. At this point we haven’t heard from them and they’ve got time to digest this during the off-season but certainly the Blackhawks want those players, those veterans to be part of this rebuild. We’ll see where that goes.
What is next season looking like?
It’s been about three weeks since the Stanley Cup was handed out and we have as much clarity on next season then as we do now. Has there been any progress?
LeBrun: Well, what I can tell you is that the NHL and NHLPA joint committee -- which has been tasked with the return to play -- they haven't met yet. It's not because they're not working. The league internally is gathering intel from its clubs and eventually this joint committee is going to meet. There's going to be about 10 players on this joint committee. In the meantime, there's an NHL general managers meeting on Friday. It's the first official GMs meeting really since Boca Raton in March, although the GMs have met on calls, especially in the spring time after COVID-19 shut down the regular season. This is an important GMs meeting. I mean, one key item? The American Hockey League. NHL GMs want to know what they're going to do with their prospects as they await when the AHL season is going to begin. Now, I spoke with AHL president Scott Howson, who says that while Dec. 4 remains the target date to start the AHL season, that's likely going to be pushed back to mirror some of what the NHL is going to do. But I can tell you this: There are some NHL GMs that want their prospects playing as soon as possible, so that's going to be an interesting conversation on Friday. One last note, the seven teams that did not participate in the Return to Play this past summer? They're going to get some good news. They've asked for some extra training camp time and I'm told that the NHL and NHLPA have tentatively agreed that those teams could have extra training camp time ahead of the normal training camps, whenever that is next season.
Seravalli: Another juicy item that's on the agenda but not in the short term. Every single player in the National Hockey League wants to know the answer to what happens to player salaries? Will they be prorated in the event of a shortened season? And there really is no answer to this point. 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. But at this point, there's been very little talk. As you mentioned, the two sides have not yet met to begin to hash out these plans. The league has remained quiet. It doesn't explicitly say in the memorandum of understanding for this collective bargaining agreement what happens in the event of a shortened season. So stay tuned, this could be a real bone of contention at some point in the future moving forward. Something that both of these sides jointly say they're going to have to discuss.
Does the flat cap put the Leafs behind the eight ball?
The Leafs' roster construction always meant they were likely to face some salary cap issues down the road. But has the pandemic accelerated that?
Seravalli: I don't think so. I think the Leafs have it pretty much well sorted out at this point with how they're going to handle the $81.5 million cap. They've got a few loose ends to tie up including Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott, both restricted free agents. Mikheyev [is] entering his arbitration hearing on Wednesday. But at this point, once both of those players are signed, the Leafs expect to be set. Kyle Dubas said that over the weekend. And their plan is to stay at as close to 20 players on the roster as possible. Maybe carrying 21 players on game day, shuttling a waiver exempt player down to the minors to accrue salary cap space at the beginning of the season on off days. And then after that, once they have some space banked up, then they can begin to get creative if need be later in the season. But guys, if there was going to be any point in which you want to try and budget to the minimum of the cap possible, it's in this season because of the roster space considerations and the COVID-19 crunch. And who knows what next season is going to look like? You're probably going to have some exempt cap players that are going to be travelling with your team at all times. So smart move by the Leafs in that case and that's how they play to attack this at the moment.
**Note: Mikheyev later signed a two-year deal with the Leafs Tuesday night. Read more about the signing here.