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Why a flat salary cap is possible

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PITTSBURGH — This may finally be the year that something’s done about escrow.

And the result could be a flat salary cap.

“One of the issues that we hear from the players’ association that causes concern to the players is the escrow,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“Obviously the higher the cap goes, the more exacerbated the escrow problem becomes. Certainly our position with the players’ association has been that we’ll manage the cap tighter and keep it lower to try to address the escrow situation, if that’s your preference.”

One way to keep the cap lower would be to nix the annual five percent growth factor that’s written into the CBA.

It sounds easy, but that wouldn’t be everyone’s preference. On both sides.

“We certainly have some clubs who have an interest in having the cap go up every year … and we have some clubs who don’t want the cap to go up every year,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday. “Same on the players’ side. A certain segment of the population would like a bigger cap, which creates more opportunity, particularly for free agents in terms of signing new contracts. And there’s a significant portion of players, apparently, who have concerns that the higher the cap goes, the escrow goes up as well.”

Related: To understand escrow issue, consider Duncan Keith

Escrow is hardly a new concern for the players, and there’s been plenty of talk the last few years that the growth factor could be renegotiated to zero. But the only time that actually happened was the 2006-07 season.

So, why should we expect anything different this year?

“Because we heard, I think for the first time, this year a really strong sentiment on the escrow,” said Daly. “Our position is if that’s a huge concern for the players, one way to start to address it is to keep the cap lower.”

The league and players’ association will discuss the matter this week, at which point an alternative growth factor could be proposed. If there’s no growth factor, the cap could stay right around its current level of $73 million.

But one thing the NHL won’t consider is a change to the actual system.

“Escrow is part of the deal,” said Daly. “It is what makes the system a 50-50 split between the clubs and the players. You take escrow out of the equation, you don’t have a 50-50 deal anymore. I don’t know how you’d address escrow, unless you change the system in a material way, which certainly is not something our clubs are interested in doing right now.”

Daly was asked if he sensed that some of the players didn’t truly grasp the system.

“I can’t speak for the players, but the mechanism is now 12 years old,” he said. “So if you weren’t a player in this league 12 years ago, and you don’t know what the origins of the escrow are and what they were intended to do, sure, there could be a misunderstanding. You view it as, ‘It’s just a tax on my salary paycheck, and if the Canadian dollar stays where it is, it’s a pretty significant tax on my salary. So let’s do something about the escrow.’ I get it, but escrow is a material element of the system.”

At any rate, a flat salary cap could be a significant issue for some of the NHL’s big-spending teams. Just this morning, for example, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said that T.J. Oshie could be re-signed if the cap goes up to $77 million, but that would require the five percent growth factor to kick in.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.