Jets cleared for takeoff Team to begin training camp for 2021 NHL season early in new year

The news for hockey fans was encouraging, even if the timing left plenty to be desired.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/12/2020 (789 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The news for hockey fans was encouraging, even if the timing left plenty to be desired.

Just as Manitobans were learning Tuesday they would not be allowed to legally gather with family members during the holidays owing to the ongoing code red restrictions, came word the Winnipeg Jets have the green light to gear up for a new season that appears to be just around the corner. 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images/TNS)

A silly game of chicken between the NHL and NHLPA is over. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the team owners he represents blinked, backing down from requests for additional financial concessions from players meant to mitigate losses that will be incurred playing in mostly empty arenas during a pandemic. Removing that large obstacle has cleared the way for the final touches to be put on what is expected to be a 56-game campaign beginning around Jan. 13. Training camps would likely start about 10-12 days earlier.

That includes in Winnipeg, despite the fact the provincial lockdown has been extended until at least Jan. 8. 

No, kids, you can’t visit your grandparents over Christmas, or break bread with your favourite aunt and uncle. But the Jets will be able to begin skating as soon as they roll into town because professional athletes and team members are exempt from Manitoba’s self-isolation requirements. 

No, kids, you can’t visit your grandparents over Christmas, or break bread with your favourite aunt and uncle. But the Jets will be able to begin skating as soon as they roll into town because professional athletes and team members are exempt from Manitoba’s self-isolation requirements.

“We see some benefit to having something for people to be looking forward to during these difficult times,” Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday, attempting to stickhandle his way through questions about why Jets head coach Paul Maurice’s crew can play by a different set of rules then every other team in the province that has been sidelined indefinitely, along with other non-essentials of life. 

The optics weren’t sitting well with people who flooded social media shortly after the announcement, believing this to be the latest in a long list of mixed messages from the province. 

Roussin, along with Premier Brian Pallister, pointed to the NHL’s ability to control their environment, one which includes self-isolation and frequent testing, all at their own expense, as we saw happen during last summer’s successful return to play.

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Dr. Brent Roussin: "It really poses no risks to Manitobans, and there are a lot of protocols in place to have this very safe for the team."

“This is a lot based on the very robust plan that the NHL and its teams have put forward and has already proven to be safe,” Roussin told reporters. 

“Much of the quarantine that we had in place last year is still in place. The self-isolation allows back and forth to the training facility, back to the residence, with private conveyance. It really poses no risks to Manitobans, and there are a lot of protocols in place to have this very safe for the team.”

Except our numbers now are much worse than they were then, so it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. Time will tell if history can repeat itself. And it’s a good reminder that, despite encouraging developments on the vaccine front, COVID-19 is still in control and could ultimately thwart even the best-laid plans. 

“We see some benefit to having something for people to be looking forward to during these difficult times.”
– Dr. Brent Roussin

Details are still being worked out about what the abbreviated 2021 season will look like, with talks continuing and the NHL holding a board of governors call this afternoon. An official announcement could come shortly after.

The plan is for the Jets to play all their games north of the border as part of an all-Canadian division. That will mean a steady diet of the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Maple Leafs, Senators and Canadiens, with half of the Jets games to be played in what is expected to be an empty Bell MTS Place and the other half in similarly barren buildings. However, there is still some talk of using hub cities in some cases, at least to start, if numbers in some cities continue to be out of control. 

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice says the team will be playing more scrimmages. The team has been engaging in running puck retrievals, breakouts and odd-man rushes.

The San Jose Sharks, for example, may find themselves needing to find a temporary home, just as the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers had to do (in Arizona) because of current county restrictions. 

It’s possible some U.S. markets will allow small numbers of fans, while a handful of franchises are exploring outdoor games with spectators if deemed safe to do so. Financial losses are expected to be enormous for a league that draws approximately 50 per cent of its revenues from ticket sales.

Which is why this latest development really isn’t a win for the players, even though it appears they forced owners to back down from a contentious issue that had brought talks to a screeching halt over the last couple of weeks.

Fact is, under the existing collective bargaining agreement, both sides are in line to share equally in the success and/or suffering. All the players have done is kick their problems down the road a bit further. And, in some cases, passed the puck to their younger peers.

The Canadian NHL teams will likely play in empty buildings with no fans in attendance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Under the escrow calculation, financial inequities will eventually get sorted out one way or the other and be “made whole,” as players and the league have a formula for splitting hockey-related revenues 50-50. Quite simply, the league wanted players to pay a bigger share now, which would mean less later. The players stuck to their guns that a deal is a deal and they’ll cross that bridge when they get there.

Players have agreed to a 10 per cent deferral of salary for the upcoming season, while putting 20 per cent of the remaining salary in escrow next season, for total take-home pay of 72 per cent. They will also put 14-18 per cent in escrow in 2021-22, 10 per cent in 2022-23, and six per cent for the remaining three seasons.

The NHL was asking for the 10 per cent salary deferral to be doubled to 20 per cent, and the escrow increased from 20 per cent to 25 per cent, predicting losses for the upcoming season are going to be deeper than forecast just a few months ago.

As of Monday night, that request is now off the table, and the financial framework of the existing CBA will stand.

Which should sit well with veteran players such as Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who already has his big-money, long-term contract extension and probably just a few years left in the league. Not so much for a teammate such as Patrik Laine, who will be a restricted free agent next season and, at 22, will be looking to cash in, but is likely going to find there isn’t as much money to go around as he hoped, with an even bigger chunk of it having to be paid back.

I expect there will be some division among team owners as well. Is it completely fair? No. Is everyone going to be happy? Also no. Is it a fitting metaphor for the Dumpster fire that 2020 has become? Absolutely. 

Stay home. Wash your hands. And get ready to watch some hockey, I guess. On television, with only your immediately family present.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Tuesday, December 8, 2020 10:00 PM CST: Updates self-isolation requirements

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