Could the IceRays Suspension Start a Lower Division Trend??

On Monday, the Corpus Christi IceRays suspended operations for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID pandemic and the concern for their team, fans, families, and the like. The positive cases in Nueces County is probably a cause of this, with 18,000 positive cases and 303 deaths; while also having severe outbreaks at living facilities and even the Houston Astros’ alternate site.

While this might usually go to my Clutch And Crab Hockey blog since it’s about the NAHL, this is something that could be the first of several teams making the tough decision to shutter down for the 2020-21 hockey season. Not just because of the ramifications of COVID, but also the uncertainty of the border opening for some leagues and differing regulations from state-to-state in regards to people needing to quarantine before being able to move about the area freely.

For the vast majority of minor league and junior teams, the box office is the biggest contributor for survival. Depending upon the regulations for the area, I would not be shocked to see more of these announcements coming out and leading to a big shuffle for teams and leagues to change schedules and for parent team– finding a spot for their prospective players. You see some NHL teams loaning out prospects to European clubs.

Could there be an off-chance that league make some kind of bubble season?? It’s an outside chance, sure. You have to think that they’d need to find a locale that could handle that sort of thing and then figure out logistics for it. Whether it looks like the NHL bubble or the MLS’ round-robin type tournament, a kind of season or tournament could be had for players and leagues to stay up and running; though it wouldn’t bring in as much money for the team or leagues that they would have hoped…it’d be at least something so they wouldn’t need to shut down for another season and have to deal with being without an end to two seasons of play.

Even with these measures, you never know what teams could still opt out because it’s not in the best interest of the team or community or anyone involved. That’s always a fear for some teams to get into a bubble and then have issues arise that set them back a little more than just opting out. We’re headed for a very odd time for lower division hockey, mostly because they are community based and provide a service to their area and should have a civil duty to help protect their community. Because of that duty, you’d have to think we’ll hear more suspension of operations due to playing not being in the best interest of the team and the area due to this pandemic.

Reirden Out, But Who’s In??

After failing to make the second round in as many playoffs due to the inability to adjust to their opponents, the Washington Capitals shipped off Todd Reirden to Parts Unknown, leaving the head coaching spot of the 2018 Stanley Cup champions vacant. The next coach will be the 19th coach in team history and fifth within a decade, which shows the standard the Caps are putting out there.

It’s not that Reirden was a bad choice, but probably ill-advised. He drew rave reviews getting hired from Pittsburgh to join Barry Trotz’s staff, but once he took over due to the Caps not wanting to pay Trotz’s asking price; the real Reirden showed. Offense was fine, but things seemed to have dropped off the second half of the seasons, especially this year where the Caps went 14-11-3 after January 1st and into the pause. Once they got to the bubble, the Caps didn’t look motivated or ready to play– as shown by their quick ousting.

The question now is who is out there. In land of recycled coaches, there are many to choose from, though some Caps (and NHL) fans would like to see a fresher face behind the NHL benches. Plus, the Capitals don’t like to spend a lot of money for their coaches, which means guys like Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant will probably be out because, while experienced, probably carry a higher price tag than most.

Management also has to worry about who will be able to guide this current core into a winning direction, while also holstering the younger core to be the leaders of this team without necessitating an entire strip-down rebuild. Nick Backstrom signed what will be likely his last contract, Alex Ovechkin has one more year left on his deal and it remains to be seen what his future will hold with the NHL, and who knows what TJ Oshie is thinking with the Seattle Kraken coming to existence and him being born in the an hour north of there in Mount Vernon. The new core of Caps will have Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson at the forefront, with Jakub Vrana and Connor McMichael in their shadow.

The blue line is an interesting beast, as John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov are the guys with Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen…well, they’re there, too. The young crop has started with Jonas Siegenthaler shuffling in and out, while the younger guys like Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, and Lucas Johansen could be hungry enough to be shuttle guys next year. But there’s work to be done, for sure, with the new crop coming up.

The goaltending seems to have went back to the future with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek in the mix, though the former seems to have the edge as the starter next year and beyond. Of course, we thought that about Semyon Varlamov and next thing you know Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby are coming for him.

Whoever is the new coach, they’ll need to be able to manage all of that…and at an affordable price. My mind went to Phil Housley, who is the defensive coach and power play coordinator in Arizona. People don’t like him because his wife could be a problem to fans due to her political leanings and fans may also hate his tenure in Buffalo enough to not want him…but he could be a good add for the young defense coming up. There’s always promoting from within with Spencer Carbery, but two seasons in the AHL may not be enough seasoning for him to make the move up.

But if you want an out-of-nowhere pick, maybe the play is Mike Grier out of New Jersey. A former Cap, sure, but a guy who knows the game and has vaulted the ranks from pro scout to assistant coach in a very short time in the NHL. There has been plenty of rave-reviews for Grier behind the bench and what he brings to the game and a fresh view is probably what the Caps want right now in their weird time of transition.

Preparing for a Caps First Round Exit

These playoffs hit differently. Obviously. But as a Caps fan, I didn’t have big expectations for them. There didn’t seem to be too much buzz coming from their camp, this is a team that’s family oriented, and there wasn’t the jump in their game it seemed.

When their round-robin games happened, people were lamenting the reason for a slow start was because the team needed more games in a time-frame so they can get a rhythm. Well, now they’re down 0-3 to a hungry team with plenty to prove to the conference. You can see how the Caps have gotten outworked in in their series and you have to tip your hat to the Islanders– they’re buying into Barry Trotz’s message and it’s paying off. Same way it did with the Caps in 2018.

At the start, I didn’t want to say that the Caps saw these playoffs as an obligation to play, but it does feel a little that way. Five months off for an older team to have however many games with them away from their family is not the most ideal situation in these trying times. Every team and every player has to go through it, but there’s something about the Caps when looking at their games that seems off and seems like they’re going through the motions in this.

This isn’t supposed to be a team where John Carlson gets completely beat on a wide-angle carry-in, leading to an OT goal. This isn’t supposed to be a team where Alex Ovechkin had five games until his first two goals and then really hasn’t been all that noticeable. This isn’t supposed to be a team where the depth of the team has gone completely silent. Tom Wilson had a good game Sunday, but guys like Jakub Vrana hasn’t been great, Michal Kempny got sat, and other have just been there.

You can chalk that up to the Islanders style of play, sure– but usually teams would adjust to that, whether it’s coach’s orders or not.

Which brings us to Todd Reirden showing that the student still is not able to best the master. Ted Starkey had a great note on the Caps coaches saying that head coaches who haven’t been able to advance out of the first round in two seasons didn’t make it to a third. I’m sure Brian McLellan won’t can Reirden just yet, given the circumstances of the playoffs, but we’re on short-leash watch for next season.

Is Reirden a bad head coach?? It sure looks like it. It’s kind of hard to believe the Caps low-balled their Cup winning head coach just because they signed this assistant out of Pittsburgh to a lower deal and thought he was ready for the bench. With Trotz’s troops– Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn– leaving as well, you almost wonder what could have been if they give him closer to what he wanted rather than being about $3.5M apart on a deal.

That all said, I can’t take away credit from the Islanders this series. They’ve played a great team game, they’ve been physical, they’ve worn down the Caps, and they seem to have much more of a jump in their step than the Caps have all series. They’ve done most everything right as much as the Caps have one most everything wrong. While it might not be a sweep and the Captain says they have nothing to lose, you almost feel like this first round ouster is all but official. So it goes.

A Look Back at the Qualifiers

The NHL’s first attempt at a Qualifier Round in the Hub Bubble was a success, regardless of how your team finished. The idea of a 24-team playoffs as the “new normal” began to have a little traction, especially with Barry Trotz speaking up about it. The downside to this would be the length of the season, of course. Unless teams vote to knock off 10 games to the regular season in lieu of those playoff games, the 24-team concept will be a one-and-done situation. Of course, playoff tickets do outweigh regular season ones; so teams who consistently make the playoffs could be swayed by that extra revenue; whilst the constant also-rans will hate to have five home games taken from them.

It’s hard to argue that it’s a novel concept– a qualifier of some sort with the top-four teams battling out to reshuffle the top positions. Though, some of the top teams would cry foul if they did get that top spot to have a better advantage in the playoffs, only to lose that spot when it came to the actual playoffs starting– much like how the Bruins lost their top spot because of their subpar play in the round-robin.

Granted, it’s not to say that getting the top spot will assure victory. We saw with the Oilers and the Penguins that just because you’re facing the weakest-seeded team, it doesn’t really mean the top team will get out in front. In fact, four of the eight qualifiers saw the lower seed winning, with Chicago, Montreal, and Arizona being below the 10-seed and still advancing.

A bugaboo for me was the statistics of it all. I don’t understand how the round-robin games count as playoffs games when the OT structure was that of the regular season. It’s not as if they were in any kind of series structure to it, so why would they count as playoff games??

The bubble concept has been great for people, especially since you can’t have fans in the arena, the time teams play is very flexible and creates all-hockey, all-the-time on the networks. We’d have to assume, however, when people are allowed back into the arenas, this will be a thing of the past. You’d actually have to choose between a number of games rather than just sit down and have them come one right after another.

Unsung to these games is the ice crew, who have been amazing in the bubble with the ability to keep the ice as good as can be with three games playing at a time, while also making sure they had the correct local ads on the boards for the “home” team and their regional broadcast. Not only that, but the game operation folks have been tremendous with their humor to the in-game presentations.

This was a good trial run to see how the length of a qualifier, coupled with how to spread out the games. If the NHL does start to scratch their chins about the idea of a consistent 24-team playoffs, then they can pretty much push to this in order to determine the success and failure. Only issue would be doing it across multiple sites and not just one or two.

Overall, the qualifying round proved to be a nice re-introduction to most people for hockey and the playoffs, which will hopefully carry over into the actually playoffs when they start on Tuesday.

Bubble Hockey Schedule Hypes My Hockey Enjoyment

The Bubble Hockey Playoff is going to sour me from playoff hockey the rest of my life.

The NHL has hit it out of the park with the Hub Cities idea and honestly, the way they’ve formatted the schedule so that there’s very few overlapping games, allowing fans to not have to choose between games has been remarkable. To be able to start at noon ET and then it end beyond midnight is just a wet dream for hockey fans, but it also allows all the teams in the play-in to have center stage and put themselves on display. For many of these teams, it’s a big chance to show off what some people may be missing because they don’t get this kind of platform.

Unfortunately, this won’t be happening every playoff because the revenue that the games create is needed for the league to survive, blah-blah-blah– I don’t care. This is the perfect format for hockey to be seen, especially when it comes to getting interest in the game. With it constantly being on the NBC family of networks, it’s hard to avoid the games and the sports with that kind of reach. Let’s be honest, if not for other contracts, you’d have to think that NBCSN would be just 12-hours of hockey for their network.

To be quite honest, I don’t know if I miss the fans in attendance. Atmosphere does count for something and it’s a big talking point during the games. But at the same time, if it’s teams I have no stake in; I couldn’t care less about how the atmosphere is in the arena– it’s not like they can keep it up for all 60 minutes of game time. I’m sure I’ll be tired of hearing the “What could this ‘home’ team do if they had their fans to charge them up” narrative, but such as life.

At first I thought it’d be dreadful to deal with an empty arena– but the NHL and their broadcast partners in NBC and Rogers have done very well. Not only that, the arena workers (who should get more money for this) are doing a great job keeping the ice in as good of a condition as possible, while also quick-changing the advertising around the board depending upon the home team and what they’ve sold for the games. I honestly can’t say that I notice too much– whether that be because the game presentation is the same (if not better with other caveats they’ve put in) or the crowd noise pumped in and video messages being shown; but I like this more now than I would have in a normal playoff.

That said, I don’t know if I could deal with this year-in and year-out, but there’s something to be said about this atmosphere in the bubble and the amount of hockey you get in one day because of the staggered scheduling. I’m quite enjoying how it’s been plan and how it’s been executed– let’s just see if I still feel that way in October when it’s over with.

More Timelines Coming Into Focus for Hockey Season 2020-21

As leagues start to set their target dates for their own reboot, John Hoven of SiriusXM dropped a little tidbit about the AHL that kind of caught my eye and it wasn’t until a second reading that it struck me.

An opt-in/out deadline.

It’s not insane to think of this being a thing, especially since we’ve seen that traveling for sports hasn’t paid off the best dividends so far. However, the biggest thing is the chain reaction this could make overall for teams and their affiliates.

As it stands, about one-third of the AHL is independently owned from their NHL affiliate, so those would be the ones that would be hurt the most with no fans in the arena, which could mean they would be more apt to opt-out for the season rather than take a bigger financial loss by operating without any money to counteract it.

For an entire season, a bubble situation doesn’t seem very viable, as the logistics as it is for the playoffs is pushing the capacity of the ice makers– albeit summer is much different than winter for humidity and all of that. Still, the availability of a location and the stir-craziness that could come from that would most likely be detrimental to the players for an entire season.

There’s plenty of iron out in a short time as they have a week before a vote is put forth, if we are to believe this timeline is true. With the SPHL announcing their plans to restart, you have to think that the rest of the minor leagues will start to make moves– especially with the NHL putting their timeline out there and now the AHL kind of lining up with the same; the ECHL will probably be in that same boat. Should be interesting to see in the next coming weeks.

John Chayka Checks Out on Coyotes Before Reboot

Okay, so this Arizona Coyotes thing is just as Arizona Coyotes as it gets, right??

John Chayka quits the team days before the playoffs, this after another team requested to talk with him about a job and after owner Alex Meruelo and his team took over contract discussions with Taylor Hall. Seeing the writing possibly on the wall, Chayka bails and now the team is going to the league to see what they can do with his contract.

It’s hard to believe that Meruelo was said to be a fan of Chayka and his style, which lead to Chayka having his contract extended. Then Chayka goes and does this because the ownership group started to micro-manage talks with a pending free agent; which has to be an odd situation considering the Coyotes are almost at the cap limit as it is with Hall’s contract going to bring in much more that the $6M he’s getting now.

Obviously, Chayka is going to be blamed for the money issues– he is the GM afterall. But wouldn’t he have to get clearance from Meruelo or previous owner Andrew Barroway to even get the money for those moves??

When Chayka came in, he was the wunderkind of this new movement toward analytics some NHL teams were making. At just 26, Chayka came from an analytics company called Stathletes founded by himself and his sister Meghan. However, for Chayka; the only playoff appearance a team under his watch has seen is this one with the expanded playoff format, as they were fifth in the Pacific prior to the pause.

Are the Coyotes jackasses for undercutting the job of their GM in contract talks?? Sure, especially when he’s not present to get a write-off dinner out of it. Is Chayka a quitter and may have screwed his team over with the contract given?? Well, the numbers don’t really lie.

Is it a shocking surprise that it’s Arizona having to deal with this?? Kind of, especially when they looked to be going in the right direction for long-term growth. It’s almost a shame that it’s going down like this and playing out as chaotically as it is prior to the NHL Reboot. But so it goes with the Coyotes.

The NHL Bubbles That Span City Blocks

The NHL unveiled the layout for their bubble for the restart of the 2019-20 season. I don’t know why they felt the need to show where they were going to be, but here we are. It’s the same question I had for when they told the general public where the players were going to stay.

Sure, people know where the NBA players are staying, but their bubble is actually a bubble. The NHL is basically having their own zone that they’ll call a bubble…which in Toronto is spanned across the damn city. It’s insane how little of a bubble this bubble actually is. There might be precautions, but the vast layout of this landscape is amazingly out of touch with the rest of the sporting world.

Courtesy NHL Media

In Toronto, one of the hotels is about two miles from the arena and the other hotel. Though they have access to BMO Field for dryland, unless there’s a series of tubes or tunnels; I don’t know how secure that is for those people in this situation. They can pimp out the diverse bars, movie theaters, tennis courts, and the like– but it’s insane to me that these hotels and stuff around right next to each other to give some kind of semblance of a bubble area.

Courtesy NHL Media

Edmonton is a little bit better of a control zone, as the NHL was able to fit it all on one map. That’s by design though, as Daryl Katz was all about creating a small city atmosphere when he envisioned this new arena for the Oilers. Little did he know about a pandemic…though he did work in pharmaceuticals and if you believe conspiracy theorists– maybe he did know. But, while the hotels and such are closer; still two city blocks between the hotels and all.

Forget the media whining about their access, the fact that these guys are so spread out across the cities is a bit head-scratching. Who knows how secure this will be with blocking outside influences from the players and keeping the players within this landscape before there’s some kind of breakaway. More over, I have to wonder what delusional person is going to be fanatical enough to try and break through the bubble to go viral– in the internet sense and maybe the health sense. Don’t say it won’t happen, but it’s Canada, it’s hockey, and those two can be a pridefully volatile mix.

They Actually Did It

The Seattle Kraken is the Boaty McBoatface of the sports landscape. Forget the rest of the identity, but the fact people willed this into existence through social media and tricking the powers-that-be in Seattle this was a good idea– it happened. It’s kind of fascinating they actually went with it; but aside from the dumb idea of renaming them the Metropolitans or calling them a fish name in Sockeyes…this had to be it, right??

Overall, the look is fine. The blue on blue on blue with a hint of red is a nice look. The logo looks a tad weird in that it looks more serpent-like than cephalopod, but the secondary logo of the anchor with the space needle is a solid nod to the city. But…the name it something that still will hang with them through and through.

However, this is just another step for the NHL’s latest team. The hype was surrounding it, they’ve put it off because of the fact that there’s a pandemic going on with a side of racial injustice, and there’s more serious things to deal with over an expansion team identity. Now, with this, an arena title sponsor, and all of that done. It’s time to look forward to who will be the first Kraken roster player. With Vegas, it was Reid Duke; so it might be a safe bet that’ll be an overage major junior free agent next season and that’ll be that then.

But it’s nice to put a face and a name to the city. It’s an identity that’s very specific to the sea with a color scheme close to the other teams in the city to create a unity, of sorts, to the sporting community of Seattle. With a sharp logo and buzz around the name– it’s probably going to be a solid seller for the basic shirts and such because people will want to get on the ground floor and show their support for the new team; especially if the silliness of the name wears off and people just go with the flow.

On the Topic Of NHL’s Bubble Hockey

As we creep closer and closer to the bubble of the NHL being a real thing and the 2019-20 season resuming, there’s a lot to take in. Here’s my thoughts that no one asked for on a whole lot of them.

First, and probably most importantly, is the health aspect of it. Bill Daly has always said that one or two tests won’t spark a complete stoppage, but what is the magic number?? Especially as you get teams into the bubble and they start to intermingle with each other, there’s a slight possibility of positive testings. Could there be a chance that the virus could wipe out a team’s playoff hopes once they get to the bubble; much like it did to some MLS team?? It’s all up to the league and teams to actually be beyond strict with maintaining the bubble and isolating anyone who may seem to be down with the sickness. That said, the numbers coming out of the NBA bubble are a sign of the bubble process working, even with two positive tests coming from the NHL side.

Second, the latest one of the five-second delay in the broadcast that’ll happen and some people are upset about. Understandable to be upset, especially when most people got hyped when HBO had “The Road to the Winter Classic” and everyone heard all the swear words. As much as I like the swearing in the midst of a game, I don’t know if I need to hear it constantly on the ice during the playoffs. It starts to lose it’s luster after a while– plus, these guys are cliche with their post-game comments; I’m sure they’ll be as plain with their cursing chirps, as well.

Third, can this lead to extended playoff fields?? Sure, we all know that the NHL has more than half their league currently making the playoffs. But for owners, the playoffs are solid money and for the league, that’s more hockey related revenue for the business. The question then becomes if owners will want to drop up to four home regular season dates for that to happen. Playoffs aren’t always a given, but with a new model in more teams making it– that’s where owners can raise the price, more teams can have playoff appearances, and a shorter regular season can finally happen.

Fourth, and the final one for now: the eeriness of the empty arena. We know, the teams are looking for cringe cell phone footage from fans to play in the arena to liven it up; but it’s not going to be continuous. I’m shocked with how the EA Sports team hold the rights to the video game franchise hasn’t said they’ll help pump in some faux crowd noise. However, is it going to make a bit of a difference to the players?? Is it something they’ll actually enjoy?? Is this their perfect playing situation, despite about what they say about the league’s fan base??