TSN Hockey Insiders Pierre LeBrun, Chris Johnston and Darren Dreger join host Gino Reda to discuss how COVID-19 restrictions in Canada might affect the Heritage Classic, if there has been any progress on a potential extension for Jack Campbell and the status of All-Star Weekend.
Where do Canadian NHL teams stand with the virus surging?
It’s clear that teams north of the border are facing far more restrictions than those down south. What does this mean?
Dreger: Well, it comes down to a player decision. And the player’s decision would be perhaps based on what his family wants and needs. I can tell you that Canadian club general managers, Canadian team executives will take you back to last year pre trade deadline where players were somewhat reluctant with trade protection to waive and come to Canadian cities. Largely because of the provincial restrictions. If you’re a player with school-aged children, a young family. Does that come into consideration with the trade deadline on March 21? And if you look beyond that potentially and unrestricted free agency? Now, no one can do anything about it and who knows what the world will look like here in Canada especially by March or even early summer. But there is a competitive slant when you talk to Canadian club executives.
Johnston: Another impact of these restrictions, particularly here in Ontario, is that the Heritage Classic outdoor game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres is in some degree of limbo. That’s scheduled for March 13 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. The NHL actually has a group of staffers coming up to Hamilton this week. And so, the league has to be full steam ahead in terms of its preparations. But they haven’t received any indication yet from provincial authorities what the capacity limits might look like and my sources are telling me that the league is not inclined to play this game at reduced capacity or anything less than 100 per cent. And so, as they’re finalizing the outdoor games for next season – something they want done by the All-Star Game – they’re leaving a spot open because it’s possible that Heritage Classic is moved back a year.
Any developments on Jack Campbell’s contract?
Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell is having a career season but is unsigned beyond 2021-22. Any developments on a potential extension?
LeBrun: There have not been negotiations between the two sides since the season has started. And what’s interesting about that is that my sense of it is that whatever the number was that Jack Campbell’s camp, led by Kurt Overhardt, would have perhaps settled for before the season when there were some negotiations, that number has gone up since then, there’s no doubt about it. Because Jack Campbell is a Vezina Trophy candidate at this point so far this season and he has proven his durability so far this season. And so his leverage and his market price continues to soar. Now, a lot of people wonder about Kurt Overhardt with some of his other negotiations whether he’s actually willing to negotiate during the season. You saw he used that as a pressure tactic with Mattias Ekholm, forcing an extension to get done right before the Nashville Predators’ season for that pending UFA. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case here. I think if the Leafs went back to Jack Campbell’s camp with a new offer sometime near the end of the regular season it could spur on more talks. But the bottom line is this: It’s more expensive now, I think, to sign Jack Campbell than it was before the season started.
What’s the latest on Eichel’s recovery?
It's been almost two months since Jack Eichel had that experimental neck surgery. He said he was hoping to come back in three to four months. How’s that timeline looking now?
Johnston: Well the timeline is right on time and Jack Eichel is progressing right now towards the point where he’s expected to be in Las Vegas within the next week or so to officially sort of join the Golden Knights and work towards practicing with them. And there’s an eye here on having him play games in February. So it’s been very good news from his spot that the artificial disc replacement surgery on Nov. 12 went well. He’s been on skates now for more than a month and it shouldn’t be too long before we’re seeing him playing or practicing with the Golden Knights.
Another comeback in the works?
Goaltender Tuukka Rask signed a PTO with the AHL’s Providence Bruins on Thursday. What might his potential return to the big club look like?
LeBrun: Speaking of NHL returns, Tuukka Rask signed an AHL professional tryout contract with the Providence Bruins on Thursday morning. And you want to talk about how the world changes quickly these days with everything COVID-19 related. Well, the plan was for Rask to play a game or two this weekend with the Providence Bruins and then if he felt good and the Bruins were ready, they’d sign him to an NHL deal next week. Well, guess what. Both the Providence games have been postponed because of COVID issues with the visitors and so there are no AHL games now for Rask. They don’t play again until Jan. 14. So, at this point, anything is really possible. If Tuukka Rask feels good while he’s practicing with Providence, maybe he just jumps right into the Boston Bruins’ lineup next week without an AHL tune-up. That remains to be seen.
What about the possibility of an All-Star Game?
We know NHL players are not going to the Olympics, but could we see them at the All-Star Game?
Dreger: Yeah, no question about that. But there are some players, or rumblings of some players, who are considering taking the All-Star Weekend off. And they may use their concerns over COVID-19 as part of the ammunition to defend their case for taking the weekend off. Remember, there is a policy in place. It’s been there a while. The NHL can suspend the invited player who is deemed healthy one game coming out of the All-Star Weekend if they do not participate. Now, there is an NHL and NHL Players’ Association conference call Friday that is to talk about all things All-Star related. It’ll be interesting to see if this item comes up.