5 Questions: NHL teams ready for life after lockout?
Even after a tentative end to the NHL lockout, there are still plenty of questions swirling around hockey issues like amnesty buyouts, players participating in the Olympics, and how teams will cope with the short season.
Senior Hockey Writer Tim Wharnsby answers some of those queries that may be troubling fans, players and executives alike.
1. What is the amnesty rule all about? Does my team have to go for amnesty buyouts? And does this mean Wade Redden will be in the NHL again?
Each team will be allowed to buy out two players before 2013-14 season, but they can’t be bought out until the off-season. This helps the teams that are in tough to get under next year’s $64.3-million US salary cap.
I would be shocked if the New York Rangers do not buy out defenceman Wade Redden and the veteran finds a place with another team. He turns 36 on June 12 and has two years remaining on his current deal with the Rangers.
The way a buyout works is a team pays the player two-thirds of the remaining amount on his contract. This will count in the players’ share of hockey-related revenues, but not against a team’s individual salary cap.
2. Nobody has mentioned the Olympics on either the NHL or the NHLPA side. Does the deal mean they are going?
Olympic participation will be something agreed on between the players and owners outside this collective agreement in cooperation with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee.
In my opinion, I see the players and the league agreeing to play in the 2014 Winter Games because of the importance to the Russian contingent in the NHL. But that may be the last one for a while.
There has been speculation that the World Cup of Hockey, a tournament that hasn't been played since Sept. 2004, could be dusted off. This is an event that would help both the owners and players increase revenues.
3. What teams will most likely be fast out of the box? People are saying young teams with good goaltending will have a decided advantage.
I agree with the goaltending part. A goalie on his game early can mask the ills of a team that needs time to find its way.
I want to say the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings will benefit from the extra rest. But Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Jonathan Quick is recovering from back surgery and top scorer Anze Kopitar suffered a knee injury over the weekend and is expected to miss the next three weeks.
The Edmonton Oilers seem primed for a fast start. Defenceman Justin Schultz, forwards Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall have exhibited good form with the AHL Oklahoma City Barons and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a strong world junior tournament.
But just like a normal season, there is no sure-bet formula for determining success in a lockout shortened NHL season. In 1995, the defending Stanley Cup-champion New York Rangers snuck into the playoffs, but then knocked off the Eastern Conference’s top seed in the Quebec Nordiques in the first round of the playoffs, only to be swept by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round.
The eventual champion New Jersey Devils had a middling regular season, finished fifth in the East. But they got past higher seeded teams in the No. 4 Boston Bruins, No. 3 Pittsburgh Penguins and No. 2 Flyers to get to the final. In the final, New Jersey swept the Detroit Red Wings, who with a record of 33-11-4 won the Presidents’ Trophy with 70 points out of a possible 96.
There is one thing that was noticeable from 1995: there were a lot of tie games. The Vancouver Canucks led the league with 12, one quarter of the amount of games they played. So maybe a team may want to sharpen its shootout skills in the brief training camp.
4. What teams will be most ready to start the season in terms of people signed, etc., and what teams are going to have a tough go of it?
No team is in a dire situation. There isn't a club that doesn’t have at least 21 players signed to NHL contracts. The San Jose Sharks and the Ottawa Senators have the fewest players signed at 21, two below the maximum 23 a team can have on its roster.
If you look at the Sharks and Senators lineup, there aren’t many glaring needs. Both teams just need a couple of depth players.
I still, however, expect a mad rush with several general managers seeking to address roster weaknesses. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs still need a goalie.
5. We hear the season will be entirely within the conferences. Is this true?
Whether the shortened season will be 50 or 48 games, all regular season play will be within the conference with most games within the division. This could make life difficult for the Winnipeg Jets.
Realignment has been put off until next season, meaning the Jets will have to traverse through the Eastern time zone more than they would like.