While the Coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the world, the National Hockey League has been trying to figure out how to return to play to complete the 2019-20 season if it is possible and allowed to do that. Rumors have been all over the place with respect to pods, playoffs, and so forth. In this past week, a format was solidified enough to put a proposal together and send it to the National Hockey League Player’s Association for their approval. The proposal is a 24-team playoff where the top four teams in each conference would be in the playoffs, the remaining eight teams in each conference would face off in a play-in series. The seven teams on the outside of that would not be involved. There would be no regular season; the 24 teams would be in it to win the Stanley Cup for 2020. This would mean the New Jersey Devils, who were 14th in the East at the time the league paused, are not involved.
On Friday night, the NHLPA released a statement approving this proposal. Per Renaud Lavoie of TVA on Twitter, the Executive Board (player representatives for each team) voted 29-2 in favor of the 24-team playoff format. Yesterday, Nick Kypreos reported on Twitter that the two representatives that voted against it were Carolina and Tampa Bay. While the NHL has not officially announced it; I highly doubt they would change this part of the plan now since the union is on board with it. It is not official, but it seems safe to write that the Devils are done until the 2020-21 season - whenever that will begin.
The NHLPA approving the format is a big step for any kind of return of the NHL in 2020. However, it is just one step. The details that remain outstanding are far from minute. In Larry Brooks’ post at the New York Post about the vote on Saturday, Brooks correctly notes that the details includes matters of immigration, visas, and travel remain outstanding. Last night, CNN reported that acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security of the United States, Chad Wolf, signed an order allowing professional athletes to enter the United States. (Note: There’s an auto-playing video in the link.) That is at least a start on that front. But Brooks’ larger point is that there are issues outside of the NHL’s and the NHLPA’s control that have to be resolved before play can resume.
There are still plenty of big issues that are in the NHL’s and NHLPA’s control that has to be resolved. There have been plenty of discussions about hub cities, where players would be sequestered to play and live at one or two spots until the games are done. The teams would have to settle on a spot, and the union would have to agree to that. I would that is going to be a tougher argument to make than just a format since it involves keeping players away from their families for weeks or months on end, or temporarily moving players with their families for weeks or months on end. There are also matters such as what would happen if someone gets infected with CoVID-19 in a game or during this format. What would be the protocols for quarantine? What about tests, would those be available and would that undercut any place that would be more essential than the NHL? How can a potential spread be limited in a sport with physical contact on the ice and close contact off the ice? And would the union agree with whatever the league proposes on that front? There is also the matter of on-ice workouts and training camp. Rink rust will be massive and being on the ice is important for players to get anywhere close to game shape even if they have been working out off-ice. What would the league allow for that and would the union agree? These are just a few of the outstanding issues that are significant that have to be addressed. All that was agreed upon this past weekend was a format if the NHL resumes the 2019-20 campaign.
Some of the outstanding issues do impact the New Jersey Devils, even though they are one of the seven teams who will not be involved. The NHL Draft is a big one. Will the draft be held before or after this 24-team playoff is intended to take place? Will the teams who lose the play-in games be in the lottery, such as Arizona and Vancouver? Will the lottery be left to just the seven teams who are not involved? Do teams who win move down in the draft order as usual? What would happen with the Devils’ (and everyone else’s) conditional draft picks? There was talk earlier in the month that those could be re-negotiated as needed. Devils fans, myself included, want to see the Devils have three first round picks. Would that still happen under this format? I hope so, but they are outstanding issues.
There is also the massive issue of what to do with free agency. The salary cap is tied to revenue. While the players and franchises share into the larger hockey-related revenue pool - which is also why escrow is a hot issue for the players - the revenue for this season has to take a massive hit due to the pandemic. What will the league and union agree to do for 2020-21? Will free agency still begin on July 1 or will it be pushed back? What about contracts expiring? Some of the contract issues have to be decided sooner rather than later as expiring contracts end on June 30, 2020 and draft rights set to expire in 2020 will end on June 1, 2020. Will those be extended? For the sake of the 24 teams that might be playing later this year who have players with expiring deals on their roster, I hope so. It still needs to get resolved - and with union approval - in the coming weeks.
Of course, the Devils have their own internal issues to resolve before they can make their plans for free agency. They need to settle on a general manager. I almost want to think it will be Tom Fitzgerald since he has been interviewing head coaches. Why would a coach want to be hired by someone who may not even be his boss? Why would ownership want an interim person hire a crucial player to work under them? However, the GM position is still up in the air in New Jersey. Whoever is named the GM may want to change personnel elsewhere, such as in the scouting department - which may impact what they do in the 2020 NHL Draft, whenever that will happen. By the way, the Devils also need a head coach. Gallant is a popular name among the fanbase. He is not the only one. John Stevens was interviewed earlier this month. Alain Nasreddine, the team’s interim head coach after John Hynes was fired, was presumably interviewed as well. I would like to see the Devils address their GM and head coaching positions before any draft or league event happens. This is something they can do now since they are not going to be playing until 2020-21. And who knows if that will be starting in October, November, December, or even a truncated season in 2021 itself.
Depending on what happens with the pandemic is the larger elephant in the room. If the rate of infected continues to decrease and/or flatten out, then normalcy may happen in stages in coming months. If the rate goes up or spikes or there is a second wave, then all of this may be moot and we will be back to square one in lockdown. Please continue to wear masks in public, practice social distancing, and keep contact to a minimum. It may not guarantee a reduction or a 2020 NHL playoff on its own, but it is something everyone can do to at least help the situation.
As far as this site goes, we will continue to write posts about hockey and/or the Devils. We have been mostly profiling prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft for the last two months now. We have five more planned for this week. We will break things up a bit after that. They will not go away entirely as we want to be fluid to the situation at hand. As I am taking this weekend’s news that the Devils are done until next season, we will have our season ending awards up at the beginning of June. We will also have a couple of posts about the team and what to do going forward that week as well. We will also continue to change things up in the coming month. If there’s further confirmation of a draft in June, then we will be on that with a few more profiles, mocks, and even a roundtable. If not, we may tackle some other topics or go over parts of the team’s history. We will still continue to have an episode of Garden State of Hockey. And for those that enjoy hockey simulation games, the Eastside Hockey Manager series will go on for the time being on Sundays. (The conclusion of the Let’s Re-Do will be up in an hour from this posting.) The offseason will be likely be longer than ever, but we will keep bringing the hockey and Devils related content even if we have to get creative. No dogs. No shaming posts about what a player likes to do in their home with their loved one. This is a Devils blog. This is a hockey blog. All About the Jersey is not going dark anytime soon; not as long as I have any say about it.
I appreciate all of you who have continued to check out, comment, Tweet, or think of All About the Jersey, whether it is every day or every once in a while, since the Devils have not played a game since March 10, when they got wrecked by Pittsburgh. I call all of you readers the People Who Matter because no matter what the hockey community with its many haters and losers say about the Devils or this site, you all matter. And will continue to matter even if we do not see a Devil on the ice for another six months from now. Thank you for reading.