By Lori Bennett
This week the NHL General Managers held their first in-person meetings since 2020, gathering in Florida. The last time they met, apart from Zoom calls, was in March 2020, just days before the world came to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. The group of 32 that gathered featured 11 new general managers who were not present back in 2020.
At the conclusion of the meetings, several noteworthy updates were provided by the league. One discussion revolved around the application of the salary cap during the playoff period.
Montreal Canadiens fans will remember how last season their team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Final by a Tampa Bay Lightning team that was $18M over the salary cap.
This outcome was possible because of a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement that allows a team to place an injured player on Long Term Injured Reserve, spend to replace the player, and then add the injured player back for the post-season when the cap is suspended. Last year it was the likes of Nikita Kucherov who returned to a stacked Lightning team and was instrumental in ending the Habs season in heartbreak.
The cap shenanigans attracted broad criticism, but apparently the GMs did not agree. Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the system is working and that there were no concerns among the group that cap rules were being abused. Alrighty then!
Stay tuned, because if the Vegas Golden Knights can manage to make the playoffs, they’re about to pull a Kucherov. That will be just in time for the GMs to revisit the conversation when they meet in Montreal in July for the amateur draft.
Speaking of the salary cap, Bettman also confirmed the cap would rise by one million dollars for next season. That’s not enough to find a Kucherov, but some teams will appreciate every dollar of wiggle room.
The NHL is also planning a World Cup of Hockey for the 2024 season. The best-on-best tournament is expected to return, perhaps to soften the blow of players having missed participation in the Beijing Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NHL also confirmed an intention to develop a database and accompanying process for the league to track all no-trade clauses and the no trade lists provided by players. This is directly in response to the debacle from trade deadline day when Vegas traded Evgeni Dadanov to the Anaheim Ducks, unaware that team was on his no trade list. The deal had to be nixed by the league, and the league is now looking to close the gap.
One unplanned item on the agenda was the future of the Ottawa Senators following the death of owner Eugene Melnyk who died on Monday following a battle with an undisclosed illness. Melnyk’s death resuscitates questions about whether the Senators can be sustained in Ottawa, with the team’s struggles in recent years to secure funding for a new arena. The discussion is, of course, premature with Melnyk’s estate yet to be settled.
Meanwhile on the ice, the playoff picture is becoming increasingly clear with teams having about a dozen games left in their seasons. In the Eastern Conference, the eight contending teams have been all but decided. The games that remain will determine placement within the conference and, consequently, the playoff matchups.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the only Canadian team that will contend in the East, and it’s looking increasingly likely that they will face the Lightning in the first round. It’s a good time to fall in love with baseball in Toronto.
In the Western Conference, the picture is a little murkier with wild card spots still more or less up for grabs. The Calgary Flames look poised to win the Pacific Division and will face a wild card team. After some questionable moments this season, the Edmonton Oilers appear to be playoff bound, but may find themselves in a wild card spot if Vegas can end strong. Albertan hockey fans are hoping their teams can go deep enough to tie them over until CFL season, at least.
While the ultimate prize in the NHL is a team award, some individual challenges are on. On Wednesday night, Connor McDavid scored his 100th of the season, for the fifth occasion in seven seasons in the league. McDavid already has three Art Ross Trophy wins to his credit and is in good position to take the award again this year. In the same game, teammate Leon Draisaitl scored his 49th goal of the season. Then on Thursday night Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs scored his 50th goal.
The race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy is likely to go down to the final game.
The Toronto Raptors continue to battle for playoff position, and as of press deadline they owned sixth place in the Eastern Conference. That’s the sweet spot for the Raps. If they can hold on to sixth, they can avoid the play-in tournament and go straight to the first round of the playoffs.
The Raptors were due to be in Orlando on Friday to face the Magic, and then head home to Toronto to greet the visiting Miami Heat on Sunday. They’ll finish the season at home and try to end strong.
Blue Jays Babble
One Blue Jay made news for all the wrong reasons this week. On Friday, March 26, pitching coach Pete Walker was charged with driving under the influence. On Monday his lawyer appeared in court and entered a plea of not guilty on Walker’s behalf. This kind of distraction to start a season is as welcome as a skunk at a church picnic.
On Wednesday the Jays made another roster addition, signing outfielder Dexter Fowler to a minor league deal. The veteran left-handed bat will be invited to training camp and given a chance to make the team. Fowler is recovering from a significant ACL tear, and the Jays are hoping he can have a bounce back season while filling a depth role.
The management group in Toronto is not kidding around this Spring – that’s because they expect to be playing into Fall.