In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll spend some time on the recent news that the NHL’s head office and the NHLPA were meeting via virtual conference to talk about a 2020-21 return to play. There are a number of really crucial issues to solve and decisions to make prior to anything happening. Still, in my mind, the NHL did a bang-up job completing the 2019-20 NHL season, so I hope for something good to emerge.
I’ll also look at the Pittsburgh Penguins plans for Kasperi Kapanen and how those plans might impact his success on the ice. I’ll quickly look at a new poll of NHL team logos to see where the Maple Leafs logo has been ranked, and I’ll share thoughts about Zach Hyman’s upcoming season.
Item One: Talk Is Starting About a New Season
On Thursday, Mike Augello of Hockey Buzz reported that the National Hockey League’s Board of Governors and NHL Player’s Association (NHLPA) each met on a virtual conference earlier in the day to discuss options for the upcoming 2020-21 regular season. As The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun tweeted, hard-working Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman has been included on a larger Return to Play committee.
Both the NHLPA and the league office seem to agree that a January 1 would be the best starting date for a regular season, but so far there’s been no word on how many games the season would be. We know that the players would like to play a full season because, if they don’t, the league would likely prorate their salaries to match the number of games played. Although it’s a short history, Major League Baseball players and the MLBPA agreed to prorated salaries during last their recently completed 2020 season.
We also know that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman continues to state that his office wants to play a full 82-game schedule, but playing a full schedule doesn’t seem likely for two reasons. First, the pandemic is not at all under control and things seem likely to get worse before they get better. The current political turmoil in the United States militates against any orchestrated attack to fight the COVID-19 virus, which means a less-than-smooth layout of the plans. Second, if the NHL wishes to finish its postseason – including the Stanley Cup Playoffs – before the Summer Olympics in Tokyo (assuming these will occur), everything has to be completed prior to mid-July.
Related: Today in Hockey History: Nov. 14
Because US/Canada border crossing for non-essential travel will continue to be suspended, logic suggests that any return to NHL hockey for the 2020-21 season must separate Canadian-based NHL teams and US-based NHL teams. If hubs or bubbles are not employed, that means that the Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Ottawa Senators would experience the kind of travel disadvantages western Canadian NHL teams have put up with throughout NHL history.
As Augello notes in his post, in a seven-team all-Canadian division clubs would be traveling to cities for games. That means that Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa would need to cover great distances and cross several time zones to play games. Such travel would be new for eastern teams, whether in Canada or the United States. Might different travel schedules give western teams an advantage?
That’s why, in previous posts, I have suggested the NHL would likely engage a schedule more like Major League Baseball, where teams travel and sequester in another city for a series of games there as opposed to the more typical one-and-done from before.
If the NHL engages in such a plan, I think there’s a chance that kind of schedule might be with us for a long time. It would be financially advantageous for all entities in the NHL’s universe to earn back lost revenues. A lot of money might be saved by revising the NHL travel schedule to make it more match the MLB’s.
Specifically, to the best of my counting, the NHL’s 2018-19 season took 184 days (82 regular-season games through the Stanley Cup playoffs) from start to finish. The 2018 MLB season took 187 days (162 regular-season games through the World Series). In other words, baseball fits in almost two times as many games into almost exactly the same number of days per season.
We will see what happens. However, we know that the talking has started. As a fan, I’m hoping the conversations will be as productive as the return-to-play conversations that allowed a completion of the 2019-20 NHL season. For all the turmoil and unknowns, I thought it was well-played and successful.
Item Two: How Well Has Kasperi Kapanen Landed?
If you’re a Kasperi Kapanen and all things go as they should, look for him to have a strong season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Head coach Mike Sullivan announced on the team podcast earlier this week that Kapanen will begin the 2020-21 season on Sidney Crosby’s line (with Jake Guentzel as well).
Kapanen, whose best season was in 2018-19 with 20 goals and 44 points in 78 games and scored 13 goals and 36 points in 69 games during the 2019-20 season, was sent to the Penguins as part of a six-player trade on Aug. 25.
Kapanen seems to be square in the middle of the Penguins’ plans. If he plays with Crosby and Guentzel and the team plays close to a full slate of regular-season games, the 24-year-old right-winger should easily set new career highs in his first season with the Penguins.
Item Three: Ranking the Maple Leafs NHL Logo
In a post yesterday, The Score ranked NHL logos and ranked the current Maple Leafs logo third-best in NHL after the Hartford Whalers (ranked first) and the Detroit Red Wings (ranked second).
As a quick historical review, the Maple Leafs logo was originally given to the team by former team owner Conn Smythe in 1927 as a way to honor the badge worn by Canadian soldiers in the First World War. The blue Maple Leaf itself has changed slightly a number of times since it was first instituted in 1938. But it changed back to very close to the same design, which has become nothing less than an iconic masterpiece, that the team wore as its crest from 1938-63.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
When I saw the other day that Hyman was on the new and expanded return to play committee, it reminded me how great a player this youngster actually is. He’s also on a great contract at $2.25 million that expires after this season. Looking ahead, he’s going to be a must-sign for Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas over the next season.
Hyman’s a dogged worker. He’s a physical player who forechecks well and makes those around him better. He’s also one of those players – Wendel Clark and Nazem Kadri were others – who just seemed to want to die as Maple Leafs players.
I look forward to watching Hyman play this coming season. I think he’ll improve and wouldn’t be surprised, even if the season is shortened, to see him score another 20 goals. I like many of the new players Dubas has brought onto the team, but how can any Maple Leafs fan not like the intelligent and hard-working Hyman?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act). He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf