These thoughts are a bit tardy for Friday, but here they are nonetheless. They were mostly inspired by Dustin Byfuglien and the Jets parting ways. I hope you enjoy them.
On Dustin Byfuglien:
Late Friday morning, the Winnipeg Jets announced that they had reached a resolution of the grievance filed by Dustin Byfuglien in response to his suspension at the start of this season. There’s been more than a fair bit of drama and intrigue surrounding this situation, as the exact cause of the dispute between the two sides remains unclear. What is known is that Byfuglien was granted a leave of absence from the team, was said to be pondering retirement, and then elected to have ankle surgery in October. We also don’t know if Byfuglien intends to resume his NHL career, but after missing what will amount to a full season at age 34 his playing days may indeed be over.
This whole thing has been a mess for a while now, and it’s a real shame for a player that was so beloved during his time in Winnipeg to leave on what appears to be a sour note. Was Byfuglien ready to retire at the start of the year then had a change of heart? Did he always want to play but medically couldn’t get there? There’s been a lot of whispering from Insiders about something being amiss but no one’s come out with the definitive story. Maybe now we’ll get to hear what was really going on.
On players leaving on bad terms:
Byfuglien’s departure from the Jets got me thinking a bit about players that leave teams on bad terms, and how disappointing and conflicting that can sometimes be from a fan’s perspective. A time-honored tradition in hockey media is for the organization to feed some juicy tidbits to local reporters, or maybe give those same reporters the OK to print a salacious story they’d heard previously, when a relationship goes bad. It’s one of the most unsavoury aspects of sports journalism; because the reporters are somewhat beholden to the teams they cover, there’s naturally going to be a conflict of interest. Sometimes these conflicts are managed gracefully, but it’s also rare to see a player slam their former team on the way out the door (either openly or through anonymous sources). Players can’t afford to be seen as distractions, so the power imbalance persists. Something to keep in mind the next time a supposed malcontent leaves the nation’s capital.
On the salary cap:
Another repercussion of Byfuglien’s departure is that the Jets are suddenly out of the salary cap hell in which they found themselves. They’re also short a key piece of their blueline, a unit that struggled badly at times this year, but the $7M in cap room that’s been freed up might save Winnipeg from having to off-load other pieces of their core.
On the topic of the salary cap, one of the biggest question marks of the next few months (years?) will be how the league addresses the sure to be massive drop-off in revenue. The salary cap is linked to a percentage of Hockey-related Revenue (HRR) and with the play-offs in jeopardy, things could get very dicey very quickly. This year’s salary cap was $81.5M and was originally projected to rise to between $84M and $88.2M according to Bill Daley. That ain’t happening.
On the whole, this is bad news for the league but as a fan of the Ottawa Senators?
This sounds obvious, but a comment made by Friedman on NHL Radio today: an NHL source told him that when/if the cap goes down, teams with a lot of cap space (i.e. OTT) might "get unbelievable offers to do things" because many others teams will be stuck. Get us more picks, @Pierre— Paul (@Sens_Army_) April 16, 2020
On resuming the season:
Lately there’s been more noise about the NHL wanting to re-start the season, even if it means playing in empty arenas. Some players, like Thomas Chabot, appear to be on board with such a plan. Others, not so much. Gary Bettman has been quoted as saying he’d like to re-start the season in such a way that would be “fair” to the teams on the play-off bubble. That might mean more regular season games or an amended play-off format.
Look, I want NHL hockey back as much as the next person but let’s not pretend the league is anxious to get back for any other reason than they are staring down gigantic losses and need to try to recoup some revenue as best they can. When Bettman and the owners carried out their threat of cancelling the full season in 2004-05 in order to win their labour war with the player’s union, they lost the ability to ever talk to me about the sanctity of the game. The NHL’s a business, they just happen to be in the business of selling a game that we all love.
On player development:
Last, but not least, Shane Pinto announced earlier this week that he would be returning to the University of North Dakota to play college hockey next year. We’ve discussed player development around these parts before, but I don’t think we can say for sure what the optimal situation is for each player. Pinto would have been eligible to play in the AHL next year, which is clearly better competition, but he’s also only 19 years old as of this writing and he might see himself in a diminished role in Belleville. The returning UND players clearly see themselves as potential title contenders with unfinished business after their season was cut short this year and that must carry some appeal to Pinto — you never know how many times you’ll get to play for a contender with a real chance to win a major title. As NHL fans, we sometimes tend to be a bit reductionist in terms of hockey goals: play in the NHL and try to win the Stanley Cup or bust. Who knows if this choice will help Pinto or not, but if it lets him pursue a dream of his in hockey, even if it’s not immediately helping the Sens win the Cup, then good on him.