By Kevin Flanagan
If there is one thing certain about the NHL’s return to regular season play in 2021, it is uncertainty. Like the rest of us, the league and the players are being held hostage by the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic as winter approaches, and the case numbers once again begin to surge.
No matter how closely the commissioner’s office and the NHL Players’ Association leadership continue to work together – and don’t fool yourself for a second, this will be a mostly revenue-driven conversation for both sides – there is no way to predict what we will be facing once the New Year rolls around.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics, but I do think the financial terms on which we play, whatever season we’re playing, have a lot of elements to them,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said late last week describing the dilemma facing both sides. “Those are all going to have to be discussed and agreed upon between the owners and the players before we can move forward.
“But that’s always been the case. I want to avoid creating the impression there’s any controversial issues. All issues have to be agreed upon. I don’t view one issue to be isolated from all the other issues.”
And while there have been whispers about owners around the league looking to bypass a truncated season that will likely be without the fan attendance they rely on to pay their bills at least to start, The Athletic’s Scott Burnside reported on Friday that shutting the season down isn’t an option.
“I think we’re going to play,” one NHL governor said after Thursday’s call. “This whole, ‘We’re not going to play’ is off the table,” the veteran hockey scribe confirmed in his piece.
So does all this uncertainty give Bruins general manager Don Sweeney a safe fall back position to defend his pedestrian performance in the oddest of NHL offseasons?
I guess that depends on who you choose to believe.
On Friday, Burnside’s colleague Craig Custance at the above-mentioned site wrote about a survey he had shared with 21 NHL player agents across the league.
When asked what franchise still needs to make a significant move before the season begins, the Bruins headed the list.
One of those polled whose job is to have their finger on the NHL pulse said the following about the team that calls Causeway Street home.
“The thing with Boston is they want to do a youth movement on the fly. You can’t be a contending team where they’re at. You either have to go for it or not. They’re on the fence. Boston, what direction are you going to go?”
While a bit more complimentary and most certainly more optimistic tone, another responded with what could be a not so subtle warning of what the future may hold for the Black and Gold.
“I’m going to go with Boston. I think Boston is a very legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The Craig Smith signing is very good. It boosts what could be the best top-six forward group in the league. Maybe even top nine once they get Jake DeBrusk signed … But they lost Torey Krug, they need a defenseman. I do think their Stanley Cup window is open and will shut fairly soon. There is uncertainty with Tuukka Rask. They need to find a defenseman.”
No matter on which side of the argument that you fall on regarding the Bruins future – and based on the responses I get from those who wear black and gold glasses 24/7, I pretty much know who the sheep will follow – both that and the ’21 NHL regular season is shrowd in a fog no one can see through.
And that is the only certainty hockey fans – especially those in Boston – can currently be assured of in the near future.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan.