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Marner’s agent tries to put out fire from Maple Leafs ‘lowball’ comments

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The Toronto Maple Leafs might be able to make the salary cap situation work enough to keep their biggest names together, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll sign Mitch Marner without headaches.

The ink on Auston Matthewsdaunting five-year extension barely dried before Marner’s agent Darren Ferris ratcheted up the drama.

In a Tuesday column for the Toronto Star, Dave Feschuk reported that Ferris claimed the Maple Leafs have been “trying to lowball” Marner, and described Matthews’ contract as not being a “team-friendly discount.”

Things blew up to such a point that Ferris went on two Toronto morning radio shows (TSN’s First Up 1050 and “The Jeff Blair Show” on Sportsnet 590) to try to put out the fires related to those comments.

In the process, Ferris then made a clarification on his clarification to Feschuk, ultimately stating that while Ferris made comments about the Maple Leafs lowballing Marner on Tuesday, those comments were related to alleged lowball offers from the summer.

*Phew*

After making eyebrow-raising comments, Ferris tried to spin things with the normal boilerplate comments you’d usually expect.

” …the discussions have been going in the right direction, and Mitch will be a Leaf for a long time, and I’m sure that everything will work out,” Ferris said on “The Jeff Blair Show.”

Of course, to many, the damage has been done — at least in terms of acting as if this is “business as usual.”

And, again, Ferris is doing his best to provide damage control after a day’s worth of frightening quotes about Marner wanting to get as close to Matthews’ $11.63 million cap hit as possible. Chris Nicholls transcribed radio interviews where TSN’s Darren Dreger stated that Marner’s camp reportedly believes he shouldn’t get “a penny” less than Matthews, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie seemed to make similar comments.

It’s difficult to shake the feeling that the people around Marner keep making things a little awkward, if not worse.

Back in December, Marner’s father Paul vented to The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel (sub required) about a perceived lack of interest in the winger possibly becoming the Maple Leafs’ next captain.

“I’ll just be honest with you,” Paul Marner said. “It drives our family nuts when we hear you guys all talk about who should be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mitch never hardly gets any consideration. It’s because he’s like this happy-go-lucky little kid. But he championed the London Knights to the Memorial Cup with that same happy (personality). I watched a guy like Doug Gilmour who had a lot of joy on and off the ice but was a real competitor.

“And that’s Mitch.”

It’s enough to make your head spin, but Marner and the Maple Leafs did their best not to pour extra gas on the fire when asked about the process on Wednesday.

“That’s why you hire an agent, let him talk to Kyle (Dubas),” Marner said, according to Jonas Siegel.

“ … A deal’s going to get done eventually.”

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock echoed those thoughts. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Babcock said “Mitch is gonna be … Mitch is a lifetime Leaf.” So the messages seem to be aligned on-the-record, at least one day after things spiraled out of control.

(Or at least until Marner demanded that Ferris clean things up? We may or may not find that out once the smoke clears.)

Either way, if the goal of pushing contract extension negotiations to after the season was to “not be a distraction,” then Marner’s reps have failed in a big way.

However, if the true objective is to get as much money as possible — well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

And grab some popcorn.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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.