Once the NHL draft and free agency have been held next week, hockey fans could be in for a long wait before they see any action on the ice.
In a biweekly call with the league’s board of governors held Monday, the 31 owners were told they likely shouldn’t expect the puck to drop on the 2020-21 campaign until Jan. 1 at the earliest and some believe it’s going to be early February before the NHL actually gets underway with a shortened schedule.
While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and officials from the NHLPA were hopeful they’d be able to open training camps Nov. 17 and start the year Dec. 1, the number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States and the second wave of the disease in Canada has thrown a wrench into plans.
Once the two-day NHL draft wraps up Wednesday and the initial free agent frenzy comes to a close shortly after the market opens next Friday at noon, it could get pretty quiet. Like all teams, the Senators are making plans for the upcoming season, but they don’t know when it will happen.
A big part of what will take place next year will begin Tuesday night with the club holding three picks in the first round of the draft. The Senators have the No. 3 and No. 5 picks in the draft (and No. 28), and this will only be the eighth time since this draft format was adopted in 1969 that a team has held two picks in the top five. The last time it happened was with the New York Islanders in 2000 when the club picked goalie Rick DiPietro No. 1 overall and took forward Raffi Torres at No. 5.
Between now and the draft, you’re going to hear a lot of chatter. Yes, some of it will be involving the Senators because there are teams sitting with picks behind the club that may try to entice general manager Pierre Dorion to move back in the first round so they acquire the No.. 5 selection.
He told TSN’s James Duthie on Thursday in an interview that will air during Craig Button’s Mock Draft on Friday at 11:30 a.m. the club is “99 per cent” certain it will keep the No. 5 pick.
Yes, Dorion is going to listen to all offers because that’s his job, but to move back the club will have to be certain it can still get the player it wants at No. 5 or a player with similar talent later in the round, and there would have to be something to sweeten the pot in the deal.
Speaking on a conference call with Detroit reporters Thursday, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman indicated there’s always talk. But he also said that’s part of the job and it’s in everybody’s best interests to listen to what other teams have to say when trying to shape the roster for the upcoming season.
The Wings, who also have needs for their roster, have the No. 4 selection so they’re going to play a big role in whether the Senators move that No. 5 pick or not.
“There’ll be a lot of phone calls made. Every team is doing that. That’s what we do prior to the draft and leading up to free agency that’s generally what happens,” Yzerman said. “I can’t tell you how much action there’ll be, but I do know we’re in constant communication.
“You’re on your phone basically all day each day leading up to the draft.”
As has been noted elsewhere, several teams aren’t sure what the economic landscape will look like next season and several are trying to move payroll to get financial relief. It’s been well-documented the Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning have huge cap issues.
“Every decision I make in the next couple of days is going to be based on trying to improve the odds that we’ll be a Stanley Cup contender year in and year out for the foreseeable future,” GM Julien Brisebois said on a conference call Thursday. “It’s not about accumulating the most talent, it’s about putting the best team together.
“Even though I’d like to bring this whole group back so we could try to defend our championship, and that would be my preference, I can’t do that. The cap just doesn’t allow that to happen.”
Yzerman added you have to keep an open mind.
“Some teams have different goals they’re trying to accomplish right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty around the league. Nobody knows what’s going to happen Oct. 9 with free agency, what’s going to happen in the market and is it going to be business as usual? Are teams going to be more conservative? I really don’t know.
“You talk to some of the clubs that need to make some moves based on the salary cap and see if there’s a fit to do any of those things. How much actually gets accomplished? I don’t know, but we’ll all be working the phone.”
Even though teams are fairly certain the business won’t be operating normally next season, GMs are acting as if it’s business as usual when it comes to making decisions.
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