Right smack dab in the middle of the Holidays right as Chanukah came to an end and as the Christmas Express barrels towards the 25th, the NHL and the NHLPA have somehow managed to put aside their usual Mutually-Assured-Destruction-caliber negotiating tactics to put a little something under the tree and into the stockings of hockey fans in the form of an accord over the 2021 season, whether anyone involved deserves it or not.

The actual nuts and bolts details of the season have been reported by all the outlets one would go other than here for actual news, but the scaffolding for the season ended up being what was long reported – four somewhat geographically coherent divisions, with all the Canadian teams forming one of them due to “differing” (read: “better” or “coherent”) policies compared to the good old US of A, playing 56 games wholly within said division, and the top 4 from each division making a divisional playoff. So teams will be playing the same 6 or 7 other teams over and over and over again until the end of May, basically, when those four teams are at for now supposed to be re-seeded at the semifinal/Final Four round. So the Hawks will be playing the Jackets, Red Wings, Preds, Stars, Hurricanes, Panthers, and defending champion Lightning for the entirety of this season.

As far as what this means for The Men of Four Feathers, this is a fairly shit draw as far as the limited number of teams they’re going to be up against night in and night out. Having both of this past year’s Cup finalists in their division isn’t a good thing for their chances, regardless of whatever one’s opinion on Dallas trapping their way out of the west yielded last year. But on the other hand, it’s probably better to face them than the Avs, who have been punted out West and will get to turn whatever is in California to plasma. Either way, the Hawks are likely looking at another lottery pick out of this barring some Loki-with-the-Reality-Stone type horseshit. But hey, all teams are required to have three goalies on hand at all times home and road, so Stan’s brilliant gambit of letting Crawford walk for the platoon of Collin Delia, Malcolm Subban, and Kevin Lankinen looks like some four dimensional chess right now, doesn’t it?

Ultimately, however, this is probably about the best way that it can be done to minimize international travel, and to allow for the possibility of collapsing things down into a bubble site or two per division if necessary should the virus run even more wild than it is right now while most places don’t give a shit. The structure of the playoffs allows for the potential of the actual two best teams in the league to play for the Cup at the end, regardless of their traditional conference alignment, and that can only be a good thing, provided the season gets that far. And in another fun victory for the PA over the owners, salaries are not pro rated this year, every player will receive their full compensation over 56 games instead of 82. And because of that, the daily cap calculations can allow for more banked cap space to accrue for the few teams that are under it, which could lead to a truly bonkers trade deadline.

As of right now, the season is slated to begin January 13th, though no official schedule has been released. This is of course due to a) the Canadian government not fully signing off on this even after setting the precedent of kicking the Raptors out of the country (great optics, there), and b) with so many NHL teams sharing facilities with NBA clubs who only have half of their schedule right now, there will likely be some conflicts with dual purpose buildings such as Club 1901. So that means it’s only about 3 weeks from when the Hawks will toss Brent Seabrook out there opening night with a straight face after two hip surgeries and not playing against anyone for 18 months, with no exhibition games and only 10 days of training camp, which is slated to open January 3rd. But don’t worry, Coach Jeremy Prinze Jr.’s third time holding Magic Training Camp is sure to be the charm.


Everything Else

Before we get any farther, this blog has always been pro-union, wherever that may be. NHL owners, all team owners really, and probably almost all insanely rich people are evil and need to be fought against and reigned in. I am wearing three Che Guevara shirts right now.

That said, the NHL is being stupid on all sides. I can’t sum it up any better than Barry Petchesky does here, but in a nutshell we’re in the height of NHL transaction series and no one has any idea what their budgets are. That’s really solid work there, and only possible in hockey. It wouldn’t be so hard to figure out a hard deadline when both sides need to agree on what the cap should be, except neither has gotten around to it for what seems to be simply because neither thought of it. That’s hockey, baby.

Anyway, the main sticking point here is that the players don’t want to use their installed escalator to the cap, which can go up to 5% of what the cap is dictated to be. So if the cap were set at $82.6M, the players could raise it as high as 86.7M. But they won’t, because of escrow.

At this point I’m guessing most of you know what escrow is, but for those who don’t, because the salary cap is pegged at projections of a 50/50 split of revenue, portions of a player’s check are held back in case actual revenue doesn’t meet the projections of a 50-50 split. Now, I imagine having 10% of your salary just held in jail every month sucks, because you have a contract that says you should get paid the full amount. Especially when we’re talking about guys making $8-10 million, that’s a lot of money you’re not seeing. Anyway, at the end of the year when everyone knows what revenues are, that money gets returned to the player or sent to the owners to even everything out.

And players hate it. You can see why, but the problem is that there really isn’t any other way. If you have a system that bases salaries and salary caps on projections, then there’s always going to be some sort of fail-safe to make sure the real numbers match up with the projected ones. You can’t know for sure what revenues will be down to the dollar. And sure, the owners don’t have similar skin in the game because they don’t have salaries, they just take the revenue that’s not given out as salaries. There’s nothing from them that can be put in something similar to escrow.

You could peg the cap to the previous year’s revenues, but then players wouldn’t be making half of what the owners are currently making and the players would hate that. You could try and just negotiate a fixed number years ahead, but neither the players or owners are going to risk getting less than half the pie now. There’s little wiggle room, so not utilizing the escalator is the surest way to keep escrow down or even not have it at all.

And to the players, or at least the bigger ones up the chain, that’s what matters. But the problem is that not raising the cap squeezes out a lot of other players. How many veterans, who probably should be earning $3M a year or so, end up just signing PTOs in September because teams simply don’t have the space to fit them in yet? How many veterans are going to give up total salary, not just escrow, to fit into a team’s cap space simply because they have to. Maybe it’s their last contract.

So Jonathan Toews can bitch about escrow all he likes, but someone should ask him if that money that he only “might” not get is more important than say, players like Marcus Kruger or Valtieri Filppula getting jobs at all or having to take serious pay cuts. You are supposed to be a union after all, aren’t you? A higher cap means more for more players. You would think it’s the greater good.

Again, the players agreed to this system. If they hate it so much they should have actually held out for a luxury tax system, or at worst some kind of veteran or mid-level exception like the NBA so that their non-use of the escalator isn’t costing other players jobs. But at the end, much like owners, players aren’t really that concerned with getting everyone something as long as they get their something.

Everything Else

I remember this from three years ago.

I remember when they flash that “1” all around the U.C. I remember the chills you get when you see it. Because though we spend most of our days dreaming about the Hawks winning The Chalice, and though that thought infuriates our bosses or significant others or whoever else because you are pretty much useless in any other way when thinking about it, when you see that “1”, it becomes all too real. It’s right there. You feel like you can touch it. It’s not just theory any more. It’s like when you first step into that girl’s/guy’s apartment that you’ve been chasing for so long. It’s not just a dream or a wish. There’s so little to execute now to have what you dared not speak of before. IT COULD REALLY HAPPEN AND OH MY GOD JUST BREATHE AND ALL I HAVE TO DO IS NOT CRIMINALLY FUCK UP AND….

And yet…there’s still so far to go.

Everything Else

Everyone is tired: LA Times/Chicago Tribune

Composure is key: Comcast

Western Conference Finals by the numbers: HockeeNight

A “Regular” Dog apparently is a good luck charm: PuckDaddy

A Tender subject: ESPN Chicago

Ready for more moments: Verdi

He is capable: Daily Herald

One day I will sit down and teach myself advanced metrics: Puck Prospectus

While his analysis has gotten better lest we forget his track record:The Hockey Writers

The two league system which must exist:Winnipeg Sun