The NHL and the Vancouver Canucks inched a tiny bit closer to returning to play on Friday night, after a Players' Association vote authorized further negotiations on the 24-team format that has been widely publicized in recent days.
Lots of questions still need to be answered, but here's my rundown on what we know so far:
The wording of the Players' Association statement, which you can see in the article above, is interesting. It certainly indicates that they're not giving unequivocal approval to the plan as we've seen it so far.
Frank Seravalli of TSN has done a good job of elaborating on those issues in this article
He said that approval on the proposal was required from 18 of the league's 31 Executive Board player reps in order to keep going ahead. During Thursday night's conference call, when the initial vote was to be held, sources told Seravalli that "designated player representatives from at least six or seven teams asked to discuss the matters internally with their teammates on Friday before casting a vote.
"After sleeping on it, the resulting ballots gave NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr more than enough votes to continue on in the negotiation process with the current 24-team format on Friday."
On Saturday, Pierre LeBrun of TSN
reported a couple of details within the 24-team plan that still need to be ironed out — whether the full-bracket structure would be adopted or if teams would be re-seeded after the play-in round, and the possibility of the first round of the actual playoffs also being a best-of-five.
As much as all eligible teams obviously want to play for the Stanley Cup, the reality of this situation is that just eight of 24 teams will still be in contention after those first two rounds. Two best-of-five rounds would speed up that process of elimination, cutting down the number of players and staffers inside the league's quarantine bubbles relatively quickly.
Even with all those question marks, there's no reason at this point not to think that we'll see Canucks/Wild in the play-in round — at a still-to-be-determined time and place.
Safety protocols also need to be established, as well as how players' family members would be accommodated. And — oh, yeah — the money.
More from Seravalli:
The NHL and the NHLPA are jointly on the hook for up to $1.15 billion in lost revenue if the season does not resume. Some players have expressed frustration in the fact that a 24-team format was brought to a vote before financials were broached.
Other players advocated for a defined timeline before the format was agreed upon, some hoping for a firm date - perhaps in late August - to return to the ice, which would then allow for the playoffs to be completed in September and October before the 2020-21 campaign would begin in December.
The league is expected to issue a formal response in the coming days, which will hopefully move the return-to-play plan into its next phase.
I wonder if the NBA felt like it was being left behind? That league office issued a statement on Saturday which basically just affirmed the rumours that have been swirling about a basketball restart in Florida in July.
Vegas has been oft-discussed as a potential hub for both the NBA and the NHL. If the NBA is all-in on Florida, that certainly opens the door for 100-degree hockey in the desert later this summer.
Also interesting — as I foreshadowed not long ago, some players in North America have begun skating at private ice rinks as they've started to open up. That includes the Canucks' Adam Gaudette, according to this new interview with Iain MacIntyre:
MacIntyre says that Gaudette skated with his two younger brothers on Thursday in New Jersey, not far from his fiancée's house north of New York City, where he has been staying. He has also been training at the facility for the last several weeks.
"I don’t know if anyone knows yet, honestly, because I kept it kind of hush-hush in case we were getting in trouble," he told MacIntyre. "It seems like most guys don’t really have a place to skate and they’re kind of just stuck at home. I was lucky to find a place to skate that was appropriate with this quarantine going on. And it’s got a gym there, too, so it’s a pretty good setup."
"I think my conditioning has always been pretty good," he continued. "It’s more about tightening up the little things like getting the hands and skating going. It took a couple of weeks after being off for over a month to get back to feeling how I wanted to feel."
As MacIntyre points out, Gaudette has quickly become so entrenched in the Canucks' lineup this season that it's easy to forget that he was waiver-exempt and initially destined for the AHL when training camp opened. But he did enough in preseason to claim a spot on the team's opening night 23-man roster.
Early on, he did log a bunch of healthy scratches. And he was briefly assigned to the Comets for three days in late October. But after he was recalled, he never left.
November was Gaudette's best month, offensively, when he posted 10 points in 14 games. Of his six goals, three came on the power play.
He also had eight points in 13 games in February. At the pause he had 33 points in 59 games, including 12 power-play points — good for eighth overall in Canucks scoring and offering a strong secondary presence behind the main unit with the man advantage.
Gaudette will become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, but he's one year away from having arbitration rights and, as a college kid on a 10.2(c) deal, he's also ineligible for an offer sheet, so his bargaining power will be somewhat limited.
Though there isn't much room for him to move up the roster with Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat ahead of him at centre, Gaudette has made a spot for himself and likes the look of the Canucks going forward.
"The only thing I can do is kind of force the coaches to play me the way I forced myself on to the team this year," he told MacIntyre. "We’ve got an exciting team with young guys who in a couple of years are going to be solid veterans in this league. All these young guys just keep getting better and better. I think it’s going to be very exciting in Vancouver.
"We know we’re a good team now, but we want to keep getting better. We want to be in the playoffs, we want to be a contender for the Cup. With the team we have this year… we’re right there. We can maybe do some damage if the season comes back."
And speaking of bright futures — Alphonso Davies is making me feel really good about turning on Bundesliga again this week, and might even be moving me past my distaste for supporting a powerful, successful squad like Bayern Munich.
He has been all over the action on Saturday morning and re-claimed momentum for his side with a crucial goal after Frankfurt scored twice in the second half to cut Bayern's lead from 3-0 to 3-2. He also had a terrific assist in the first half.
My Twitter feed is buzzing about him right now — and not just from the Canadians:
Last week, I felt proud that Davies had worked himself into the Starting 11 of a powerhouse like Bayern in just his second season in European soccer. This week, he's dominating. And don't forget, he doesn't turn 20 till November.