Puck woes: NHL’s bottom line facing short-term blow

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With so much uncertainty, Larry Quinn can’t predict just how severe the NHL’s financial losses might be due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That doesn’t stop the former Buffalo Sabres managing partner from providing a bleak assessment, at least for the short term.

“They’ve got big challenges ahead,” Quinn said. “And the problem is that you don’t know the answers to the questions you have to ask.”

The questions are many at a time the NHL hopes to go ahead with a 24-team expanded playoff format in a bid to conclude the season with no clear timetable of when to open the next one. It could be as late as January, though Commissioner Gary Bettman has said it would be a full 82 games.

Many NHL issues are similar to those facing North America’s other major professional leagues, such as when fans will be allowed to attend games. Others are more distinct to hockey, such as the effect the drop of the Canadian dollar will have on a league with seven of its 31 teams based north of the border.

The NHL was a $2.3 billion business with a $39 million salary cap coming out of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. It broke the $5 billion mark in 2018-19, with an $81.5 million cap this past season.

Quinn said the NHL’s bottom line could be sheared in half in the short term, effectively erasing the gains made since owners and players reached a revenue-sharing agreement following the lockout. The anticipated drop in revenue has already caused a large ripple through the league.

At least 10 teams have laid off employees or announced indefinite furloughs, with many executives taking pay cuts. Just this week, the Sabres made a drastic series of cost-cutting moves by firing general manager Jason Botterill and his assistants, 12 of 21 scouts and their entire minor league coaching staff. Owner Terry Pegula specifically cited uncertain times raised by the pandemic, and a desire to become a “leaner” and “more efficient” operation.

Players are bracing for lost salaries by continuing to defer whether to receive their final paychecks. They are also in jeopardy of losing the portion of pay put aside in an escrow account, which rolls over to the owners should revenue fall short of projections; players have lost upward of 10% of their pay to escrow over the past seven-plus seasons and it is a major issue in upcoming labor talks.

Former NHL executive-turned-broadcaster Brian Burke said the pain will be felt by teams and players alike.

“I said seven weeks ago, if we lost this season and part of next season, I could foresee a $40 million salary cap,” he added. “I don’t think it’s going to get to that point. And I know one option that’s being discussed is deferral of some of these wages they’re paid and see what happens, and when the revenue bounces back they can get paid.”

Bettman recently said gate receipts, while significant, don’t make up a majority of league revenue. But gate revenue is key to the NHL because it lags behind its counterparts in television dollars.

The NHL has a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC, that expires after next season. It has a 12-year deal with Canada’s Rogers TV that began in 2014-15, and is worth $5.2 billion Canadian. In comparison, the NFL makes more than $5 billion annually from broadcasting rights agreements.

The Canadian dollar plays a major role in league finances, with player salaries paid in U.S currency. That wasn’t an issue in 2007, when the Canadian dollar briefly jumped above par, which was reflected in the NHL’s salary cap making its largest two-year gain, going from $44 million in 2006-07 to $56.7 million in 2008-09.

That’s not the case today, with the Canadian dollar at the 75-cent range. Teams north of the border project losing $400,000 each time the Canadian dollar drops a penny, putting a strain on their ability to compete for or retain high-priced talent.

The uncertainty has led to all general managers unable to assess their rosters and payrolls beyond this season.

“What happens to the cap? Does the cap go down because revenues are going to decrease? Do they artificially keep it where it’s at?” Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “Those are just open-ended questions, and we discuss them, but we don’t come up with any answers.”

Issues arising from the pandemic have slowed negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, with the current deal expiring in September 2022.

“What’s the revenue going to be next year? If you tell me that, the bargaining’s pretty easy,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “If you don’t know that, it becomes a little more complicated.”

Questions remain even if fans are allowed to attend games next season. There are concerns fans won’t return at the same numbers if there is no vaccine available. Others worry fans won’t have the same disposable income for luxuries like games.

“(Sports is) the first casualty of economic hard times,” Burke said. “So you’ve got smaller crowds or no crowds. … You’ve got no suite revenue. So it’s very corrosive.”

Attorney Irwin Kishner, who has represented numerous teams and leagues, said the NHL must consider out-of-the-box promotional ideas to generate revenue. Tarps on empty seats carrying sponsor logos. Sponsorships on jerseys. Maybe reviving the World Cup of Hockey tournament, which was last held in 2016 and generated an estimated $40 million.

“This too shall pass. The question is, how do you develop these alternative revenue streams?” Kishner said.

Burke expressed confidence in the NHL enjoying a quick turnaround.

“We’ll get through it. I think if anything, this pandemic has demonstrated is how much people love the game and how much they miss the game,” Burke said. “The next 18 months are going to be hard. But I think we’ll be just fine after that.”

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.