Hub Cities, Amnesty Buyouts, Wendel Clark

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at what we know about the hub cities, the proceeding conversations about a new CBA, and share some of Maple Leafs’ favourite son Wendel Clark’s insights about what returning to hockey might mean to players this season.

Item One: Toronto and Edmonton Will Be Named the Hub Cities

Although this is not yet news, because it hasn’t been confirmed, it’s already old news. Reports are coming from everywhere that Edmonton and Toronto will be named the NHL’s return to play hub cities.

Sportsnet reported two days ago that the two Canadian cities will be where players will fight out the 2020 Playoffs. Edmonton is expected to host the Western Conference and Toronto the Eastern Conference. TSN also reported something similar, that the NHL was expected to choose Edmonton and Toronto — barring unforeseen circumstances.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Nylander, Statistics & Elynuik

TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie also announced Edmonton and Toronto. The report was further confirmed by Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. Everyone’s saying it, but not officially.

Interestingly, and this isn’t necessarily about the hub cities, McKenzie also noted that Tuesday evening the NHL and NHLPA were working through the night to hammer out a new agreement.

It’s good news that the NHLPA and the NHL are working well together to settle issues that are popping up.

Item Two: There Will Be No Amnesty or Compliance Buyouts

Speaking of hammering things out between the NHL and the NHLPA, it’s been rumoured for months that, with the loss of revenue from the NHL’s regular season’s suspension of games, teams might be allowed an amnesty or compliance buyout to help negotiate a stagnant salary cap.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Forgotten Ones: Glen Wesley

However, according to McKenzie (who seems to be everywhere), as the two sides hammer out the final details of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), there haven’t been any discussions of amnesty or compliance buyouts.

In essence, managers who signed bad contracts (and, the Vancouver Canucks’ six-year, $36 million deal with Loui Eriksson signed in 2016 jumps to mind) are in deep trouble when it comes to their rosters, and they will need to find creative ways to dump salary. Some teams will lose good players and others will have to find salary-cap loopholes to complete their rosters.

Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

An amnesty buyout would have allowed teams a get-out-of-jail card to erase one bad contract without penalty to help navigate a salary cap that is expected will stay flat for the next three years according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

What’s interesting about the Maple Leafs is that, although fans sometimes disagree with their stars’ high salaries (and that includes me), in truth general manager Kyle Dubas has not signed a contract that he would like to buy out. He and his team of salary-cap geeks (a term of appreciation) seem able to manage salary cap issues that annually haunt the organization. 

Item Three: Wendel Clark On Returning to Hockey for the 2019-20 Postseason

Yesterday Wendel Clark spoke with CBC Radio’s As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue about what it means to resume the NHL postseason in Canada. I’m only including part of that conversation here, but I found Clark’s perspective insightful.

Related: Wendel Clark for Mats Sundin: 25 Years Later

Question #1: McCue asked Clark what would be going on in his mind about returning to the ice.

Clark responded: “I was always a player that knew we weren’t playing for a long time, you know. You might be a player that’s got a short career and you play four years. The average career might be 10 to 15 years. So to have one year that you miss, that gets lessened.”

Clark added: “So if you [gave] me a chance to play and be around the guys on our team and play for the Stanley Cup, I’d always be saying, “Let’s play hockey.”

Question #2: Clark noted it was tough for young players to be away from teammates because they missed the camaraderie. McCue asked what Clark thought it would be like on the ice when the teams finally came together for the hockey training camps set to resume July 10?

Clark responded: “They’ve been separated since March. And they’re missing what they love to do: hanging out at the rink, hanging in the dressing room, playing hockey, the game they love. And you only get to do it so long. It’s not a sport that you get to do forever at the highest level.”

Clark added: “So I think once they get back in the swing of things and you get groups of guys together playing the game … it’ll fall right into being fun times.”

Question #3: McCue asked Clark what he missed most about not playing or not being able to watch hockey during the pandemic?

Clark responded: “I’m ready to watch hockey that I don’t know the outcome [of]. We always miss what we love playing.”

Then, without prompting, Clark told McCue, “We went through different player lockouts and stuff. And, you know, I had three teammates, I think, [during] my first lockout that we went through that never finished. They never came back.

And they’ll tell you they wish they hadn’t [gone] through the lockout because they can’t make up that year again. So that’s why, in the big picture, I think if they can play and do it as safe as they can, everybody’ll love to do it.”

That’s interesting because it offers some insight into the complexity of how players know that they have short careers and that puts them at a disadvantage when they negotiate with management. Even if their salary seems monstrous in comparison to most Canadians, it’s hard to face losing one-tenth (for example) of your career earnings by facing a lockout.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs have an advantage if, indeed, Toronto becomes a hub city. They won’t have the complexity of travel, once they get to Toronto from wherever they’ve been quarantining they can stay there. Although there should be no home-ice advantage, there are advantages to playing at “home.”

Related: The Worst Free Agent Signings in NHL History

As McKenzie noted, the NHL and the NHLPA are working long hours trying to negotiate a return to play. I expect to hear more news this weekend or early next week. July 10 is rapidly approaching.

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