As one of the strangest off-seasons in memory stretches on, I’ve had a few questions bouncing around in my head of late. These are the propositions that I see as nearly 50/50 in most cases; you could make a convincing argument either way. Here are some partially-baked answers to the big themes that I keep coming back to these days:
Will the NHL complete a season in 2021?
The mother of them all, the big question that hangs over everything else when we talk about NHL hockey these days: will there even be a full 2021 season? Certainly the league is going to try to approximate one, and the NBA just yesterday announced that they’d reached an agreement with the NBPA to play a 72 game season starting on December 22nd. I was extremely skeptical that the NHL would be able to pull off the logistics of the play-off bubble, yet they did it. That was also a one-time event, designed to conclude the 2019-20 season, to get the television advertisement $ flowing, and to buy themselves time to plan their next steps. Will the league actually be able to make it through something resembling a complete season with fans in the seats? Because make no mistake, more than any other major men’s professional league, the NHL is dependent on ticket sales; they will not be keen to resume unless fans can be present. My guess right now is that if a season does happen, it will wind up looking a lot like the bubble; there might even be a suspension of play at one stage, but ultimately it will take place.
Will the Ottawa Senators climb out of the league’s basement?
Now that we’ve answered the first big question in the affirmative, I turn my attention to the Sens. As we’ve discussed several times before on this site, the bad hockey teams of the last two years were expected: a tear-down rebuild has the explicit goal of collecting top draft picks, and you can only really get those by being bad. With two top five picks in the 2020 draft, the Sens certainly reaped the rewards of that process. Now, the team appears to be positioning themselves to attempt to be competent next season; the trade for Matt Murray and the signing of Evgenii Dadonov are only transactions that you complete if you want to make your team better right away. That said, Ottawa’s potential improvement will be heavily predicated on the play of their youngsters. I’ll be optimistic again here and say that, yes, Ottawa makes meaningful progress up the standings this year. They’ll finish in the 22nd-24th range, and won’t be real play-off contenders but they won’t be one of the league’s laughingstocks anymore.
Will the Senators get Brady Tkachuk signed to an extension before the season starts?
After two somewhat optimistic takes, I regret to inform you that I am a lot less upbeat about this question. The Sens, I’m sure, are very keen to lock Tkachuk up to a long-term deal; he’s very good, he’s young, and, importantly, he hasn’t yet posted massive counting numbers in his first two years in the league. The team probably believes that now is as good a time as any to sign the young winger to a bargain contract. Tkachuk’s value to the team goes far beyond points, of course, but NHL contracts are still largely handed out on the basis of your scoring totals. Tkachuk’s first two seasons in the league were good, but not spectacular when it comes to counting stats. He likely believes that he’ll finish ahead of his prior scoring rate if he plays a full season on what figures to be a better squad. Besides, Tkachuk is already set for life financially and isn’t in the same position as many of his peers who are looking to just guarantee themselves and their families financial security. He doesn’t have much incentive to compromise, and if his brother is any indication he’ll be willing to take a bridge deal if he doesn’t see a long-term deal as paying him fair value. Unless the Sens cave in a big way, which I find highly unlikely, I think these negotiations get drawn out for a long time yet.
Will Tim Stützle play a whole season in the NHL?
God, I hope so. Setting aside the on-going debate about what the Sens did with the rest of their picks in the draft, everyone and their mom is absolutely ecstatic about the promise of young Stützle. I mean, look at this:
The kid is an absolute wizard with the puck. My only fear for Stützle is that some of the in-tight moves that he pulls off so often in the DEL won’t work quite as well in the NHL; he won’t always be the most skilled player on the ice in the best league in the world. He’s also going to be a bit of a turnover machine - especially at the start as he adjusts to the quality of NHL defenders. My hope is that DJ Smith and the rest of the Sens’ organization let him play through some mistakes. Smith’s handling of the youth last year was a bit of a controversial topic but that will be nothing compared to this season; Stützle’s development is probably the single most important thing for next season. Luckily, the kid seems like he’s pretty good. If he’s healthy, I think he sticks around for the whole year.
Is this blog over?