Beyond Headlines: NHL labour peace? Dare to dream

Ron MacLean, Nick Kypreos, Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston get you caught up with all of the latest news surrounding the NHL on this week's rendition of Saturday Headlines.

‘Beyond the Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.

It is the dream of every NHL fan, player, media member and executive. The hope of arena employees, bar owners, sponsors, television partners and about a million other people who are directly or indirectly tied to the sport:

Labour peace in the world’s best hockey league.

Can you imagine?

While it’s way too soon to handicap how likely it is that the dream becomes reality, the fact there’s ongoing dialogue between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association is at least a start.

As far as we can tell, they’ve already agreed that the best time to hold another World Cup is September 2020 — when the current CBA may expire, pending a decision on the reopener — and so they are treading into discussions about how or if they can avoid having that happen in order to stage another international hockey tournament in which they split the profits.

The NHL needs to know by January if it’s doable, as Elliotte Friedman reported on “Headlines.”

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That means the CBA could be extended quickly.

The mere possibility has put a hopeful feeling in the air — although one prominent player told me that it’s hard to fully trust the league’s intentions after living through a lockout in 2012-13 and hearing tales of those that came before it.

History is a factor here.

But so is the forthcoming introduction of a 32nd team in a system where the revenues are already split 50-50 between players and owners. There are obviously aspects of the current deal each side doesn’t like, but at what cost are they willing to fight over them? Is there another way?

We’re going to get a clearer idea in the very near future.

Dare to dream, folks.

EXPANDED PLAYOFFS

Sometimes I wish we had cameras off set at Hockey Night in Canada as well on.

Case in point: When we returned to the commentator’s room following our “Headlines” segment on Saturday and found Brian Burke seething. He wasn’t a big fan of my item about some teams pushing for an altered playoff format that would see 10 teams per conference quality — with the bottom four on each side involved in a 7 versus 10/8 versus 9 play-in series.

It’s an idea Gary Bettman has pushed back against in the past and clearly Big Burkie sees things the same way as the commissioner.

First he engaged in a colourful exchange with Friedge. Then he suggested we hand out participation ribbons to everyone in the league. Finally, he launched into a profanity-laced diatribe about the integrity of the sport.

It was nearly as entertaining as a couple best-of-three wild-card play-ins might be immediately after the regular season.

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PETTER$ON’$ BONU$E$

Elias Pettersson is turning the Vancouver Canucks into a marquee attraction again. If you watched his five-point performance against Colorado on Friday night, it’s hard to imagine passing up the opportunity to see him play in the near future.

That should be good for business.

It could also become quite lucrative for him.

Pettersson is a rare case in that he earned the full Schedule A and B bonuses in his entry-level contract despite being taken fifth overall in 2017. Historically, the full package has almost exclusively been reserved for No. 1 picks or highly coveted undrafted free agents.

However, much like Nashville’s Eeli Tolvanen (the 30th selection in 2017), a strong performance in Europe gave him enough leverage to get the grand-daddy deal. Technically, he could have stayed in Sweden after a season where he won everything — rookie of the year, top forward and playoff MVP, plus a league title with the Vaxjo Lakers — so the Canucks were incentivized to hand out the best contract possible to get him here now.

It could see Petterson earn as much as $2.85 million in bonuses this season above his $925,000 salary. The Schedule B is worth $2 million alone and is achieved through claiming a major award (excluding the Calder Trophy) or finishing among the NHL’s top 10 in goals, assists, points or points per game.

The Canucks, of course, will gladly pay up if Pettersson can do it. That means they’ve got a genuine star on the payroll.

NYLANDER WATCH

The Toronto Maple Leafs strongly believe in William Nylander the person and William Nylander the player.

He was the first draft pick made after Brendan Shanahan took over as team president in 2014 and wouldn’t fall to No. 8 if we redrafted that class again now. Staff who work behind the scenes have described the Swede as one of the most pleasant guys in the dressing room — forever respectful of those in lower positions, and the kind of guy who lights up when a teammate’s kid is around or the team is participating in a charity event.

That’s why the Leafs have endured this long contract stalemate without seriously engaging in trade talks with the growing list of suitors jockeying to get in the queue. (As Friedge rightly reported, the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t even disguising their interest. They’ve heavily scouted Leafs games all year to be prepared for a deal that could come to include more than just Nylander.)

It’s something to keep in mind as the Dec. 1 signing deadline draws nearer.

You will start to hear more noise about Nylander being willing to sit out the entire year and play in Europe if the Leafs don’t meet his demands. However, I’m not convinced they’d trade his rights even if that were to happen.

If you love something enough, sometimes it’s worth fighting for.

GOALIE GEAR

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the goaltenders complaining about their adjustment to a smaller chest protector this season. What’s largely gone unreported is how diligently the league has worked to address each individual issue.

That task falls to Kay Whitmore, a former NHL goalie and now vice-president of hockey operations, who has been on the receiving end of a massive number of texts, phone calls and emails.

Many of those have come on behalf of Winnipeg Jets starter Connor Hellebuyck. When I spoke with the Vezina Trophy finalist a little more than a week ago, he estimated that he’d sent in photos of bruising to Whitmore at least three or four times.

In conjunction with Jets equipment manager Jason McMaster, there’s also been a lengthy dialogue about alterations to Hellebuyck’s chest protector — with the NHL ultimately approving additional padding around his shoulders. An equipment rep from Vaughn Hockey was also dispatched to assuage concerns before Winnipeg’s game in Detroit on Oct. 26.

“If I was Kay, I’d be getting annoyed with how much we’ve been back and forth with him,” said Hellebuyck.

He’s far from alone. At any given moment there’s 65 to 70 goalies on NHL rosters and they’re using chest protectors from six different manufacturers. Some even have Frankenstein setups with arms from one company affixed to the body of another.

When the Calgary Flames visited Toronto on Oct. 29, Whitmore and a representative from the NHLPA met with Mike Smith following the morning skate. The veteran goalie likens the new chest protectors to a bullet-proof vest — they stop the puck but leave a mark — and isn’t fully satisfied with a change that’s been three and a half years in the making.

But he acknowledged that the league has been fair in its approach.

“They’ve been very vocal in trying to help us and open to trying to adjust so there’s no fear in guys,” said Smith. “I’ve read a lot of articles and seen a lot of guys talking about it, and talked to a lot of goalies myself, there just can’t be that fear of guys getting hurt. I think that’s the biggest problem right now.

“We’re going to get it fixed and everything will be fine.”

SPEZZA GIVES

Jason Spezza is quietly building towards a renaissance season — thrilled with his elevated role under new coach Jim Montgomery and producing for the Dallas Stars with 10 points in 13 games.

He’s also in a contract year. And while there’s been no serious discussion about an extension, there is an understanding that he’s willing to take a big discount to return next season.

“They know where I’m at. I know where they’re at,” said Spezza. “We’ve talked about it, and we just want to have a good year this year. We’re focused on the here and the now.”

Here you have a player and organization with interests aligned. At age 35 all Spezza cares about is trying to win a Stanley Cup before the curtain falls. The Stars are similarly motivated with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin signed long-term for significant money and an emerging D-corps stocked with intriguing young players.

The salary cap becomes a challenge for every organization in that position at some point and here’s where things get interesting: Seguin’s extension and a $4.1-million raise kick in next season, while Spezza’s current $7.5-million comes off the books.

The veteran centre is willing to take a major haircut to come back on a bargain deal — giving GM Jim Nill the ability to keep a secondary scoring option while absorbing Seguin’s raise and gaining as much as $2 million in cap space to be allocated elsewhere.

Assuming Spezza remains productive, that sounds like a win-win proposition for the organization.

“I really don’t care [about the value of the next contract], like I really could care less. I have lots of money,” he said. “I want to stay and play, and as long as I have a good role they can take my money and give it to someone else and give us more depth. I’d take it, you know?”

SMITTY’S BACK

There was a time not so long ago where Tyler Smith wondered if he’d ever play a meaningful hockey game again. He was fortunate to emerge from the Humboldt Broncos bus accident with his life, but he had nerve damage down his left arm plus a broken collarbone and broken shoulder blade.

Once his body started to heal, it was the chance to honour the 16 teammates, staff members and friends killed in the April 6 accident that pulled him back to the game. It took a lot of work to get to a point where he could join Brayden Camrud, Derek Patter and a new group of Broncos.

But on Friday night at Elgar Petersen Arena — with 30 friends and family from Leduc, Alta., cheering through his every shift — that’s just what Smith did.

Congratulations, young man.

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