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Inside the NHL: Are players, cash-strapped owners heading for an ugly faceoff?

Inside the NHL: Are players, cash-strapped owners heading for an ugly faceoff?

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Gary Bettman

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

We're about to find out if hockey is going to learn a lesson from baseball or go down the same road.

It seems like a Jan. 1 start to the hockey season is optimistic at this point, especially as we've learned in recent days from multiple reports that the NHL wants to reopen the new CBA it just signed with the players in July before it opens training camps. Baseball hit similar snags over player pay for a shortened season before finally starting its 60-game slate on July 23. 

The NHL is likely to play a much bigger percentage of its season than MLB, perhaps as many as 60 of the 82 scheduled games, but owners are still looking to cut down on their cash outlays because of the fear fans may not be in the buildings at the start of the season and for a long way into the schedule.

As part of the CBA, players agreed to defer 10% of their salaries for this season and cap escrow payments of their money at 20% for this year, sliding down to 10% by 2022-23 and 6% in the final three years of the deal. But as first reported by Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the league reportedly asked the players to defer another chunk of salary – as much as 13% according to some reports – and increase the escrow payment to as much as 9% from 2023-2026.

Tweeted agent Allan Walsh in response to a Toronto radio station promoting an interview with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly: "Does the NHL’s word mean anything? The ink is barely dry on the new CBA and you’re demanding additional concessions from the players? You made the deal, now honor the deal."

Walsh also had a message for Commissioner Gary Bettman as well: "Imagine if NHL players approached the League four months after agreeing to a new CBA attempting to dramatically change the terms of the deal? How quickly would Gary say “Take a hike”? The ink isn’t even dry on the new deal."

We're approaching the time when a deal better be made in the next seven to 10 days if Jan. 1 is going to stay a target. If you figure a two-week training camp – and three weeks for the Sabres and six other teams that didn't take part in the Return to Play – players need to start coming back from Europe to serve their quarantines. And the Not So Magnificent Seven clubs need to be on the ice around Dec. 10. 

Both sides have points here. The pandemic is getting worse. The CBA was signed with the expectation that the 2020-21 season would be a tough one revenue-wise, but projections are already much worse that initially expected. But as Walsh said, what in the world would the NHL say to the players if they approached the league looking for changes in a just-signed deal? Foolish to think they'd even do that, let alone what reaction it would create.

Remember, Bettman said multiple times the league was hopeful of playing a full 82-game schedule this season and that's obviously out the window now. The league's goal is clearly to get back to a more "normal" calendar for 2021-22, which is slated to mark the debut of the Seattle Kraken as the league's 32nd team.

No league or owner could have possibly predicted the type of financial harm a global pandemic would suddenly cause to the economics of sport. But the NHL just signed a deal. Hard to have much sympathy for billionaire owners crying poor, but we'll have to wait to see what this means to get a season going.

Cozens, Dach take the hit

An interesting subplot developed at Team Canada's World Junior camp Thursday morning in Red Deer, Alberta, as TSN video surfaced that showed Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens and Chicago's Kirby Dach getting kicked out of practice by coach Andre Tourigny for arriving just as the workout was beginning.

The video showed Tourigny calmly speaking to the pair and then fist-bumping them before they retreated to the dressing room and watched the workout from the stands.

Tourigny, the junior coach of Sabres' No. 1 draft pick Jack Quinn in Ottawa, explained afterward that the pair had treatment with a physical therapist but didn't communicate with the coaching staff they could be late.

"I said, 'If I let you go on the ice, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the group?' " Tourigny noted. "Kirby said, 'It shows we're loose.' I said, 'Do we want to send that message?' Both of them said no."

Tourigny said he offered the pair a chance to practice anyway and deal with it, "Or you take the hit and we send a strong message to the team. ... Both of them said, 'We'll take the hit. We want to do what's right.' So I fist-bumped them and I said, 'Thank you, guys,' and that was the end of the story."

Tourigny said he was happy to see the accountability taken by Dach and Cozens, who was a key player on Canada's gold medal team last year between stints with Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League.

"I don't think you can have a stronger message from strong guys than those two leaders who took the hit today to send a strong message to the rest of the team," the coach said. "Give them a lot of credit and a lot of respect for what they did."

Cozens and Dach were the first ones on the ice for Thursday's late session, with goaltending coach Jason Labarbera chiding them by asking why they were so early. Said Cozens: "Not taking any chances."

Patrick Kane and partner have son

South Buffalo native Patrick Kane turned 32 on Thursday and then dropped a bombshell on his Twitter account Thursday night, announcing the birth of his first child came on Nov. 12.

Pictures of Kane, longtime partner Amanda Grahovec and the baby – Patrick Kane III – were featured on the post which simply said, "PTKIII 11/12/2020." For those scoring at home, the November birthday means PTKIII will be eligible for the 2039 NHL draft.

NHL vs. NBA dollars

The indispensable tweeted quite the comparison on Friday after the NBA draft when it noted that No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves was going to get a max Rookie Scale Contract of $44.2 million with $20 million guaranteed.

When Alexis Lafreniere signed his max rookie deal with the New York Rangers as the NHL's No. 1 overall earlier this month, it was for a total of $11.3 million with $517,500 guaranteed.

The top overall cap hit for next season is Connor McDavid's $12.5 million. The top salary is Auston Matthews' $15.9 million (cap hit of $11.634 million) – of which all but $700,000 was paid as a signing bonus.

By stunning comparison, there are 66 NBA players scheduled to make more than Matthews next season, with Steph Curry leading the way at just over $43 million. Ah, the magic of massive television and worldwide merchandising and sponsorship revenue.

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