I’m sure that many of you are receiving sports updates regularly when your cell phone buzzes since the NHL is not the only league affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Recently, it seems, I’ve been getting buzzed more often than normal.
News over the past few days has shown just how complicated the world of sports will likely become in the time of a pandemic. Yesterday, I read that NBA players would take a 25% salary cut as per the rules of their CBA (collective bargaining agreement). Then, Major League Baseball followed suit. There’s also been some pointed discussion about the risk and rewards for athletes who begin playing their sport again.
In this post, I want to first note some of the complexities professional sports must deal with in their discussions about a return to play. Also, I’d like to engage in some of the more typical news and rumors that are swirling around the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Item One: MLB Players Hint at the Complexity of a Return to Play
In MLB, the effect of COVID-19 has had serious salary repercussions, and at least a couple of players are balking at the thought of returning to play for less salary. Tampa Bay Rays Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell put it bluntly if not a bit crudely when he announced:
“Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go, for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof. It’s a shorter season, less pay. I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, okay? And that’s just the way it is for me.”
A bit later, he toned it down a bit by reshaping his announcement – although not his stand – in a message to the Tampa Bay Times. Snell said that his concerns were rooted more in health and safety issues:
“I mean, honestly, it’s just scary to risk my life to get COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) as well as not knowing and spreading it to others. I just want everyone to be healthy and get back to our normal lives, ’cause I know I miss mine!”
The NHL would be wise to watch how professional athletes in other sports respond to all the complexities of dealing with a return to play. The comments by Snell and others point to how difficult it will be to resume professional sports.
To date, I haven’t heard any specific suggestions about NHL negotiations with its players. I have only read reports that there have been discussions about the “ways” the 2019-20 season might progress. The reactions of professional athletes in other leagues suggest how problematic finishing the season might be.
By the way, although Snell’s comments could have been a bit less self-involved, I understand why he’d be afraid about playing a game and in doing so become infected or even die. What is the risk vs. the reward in this circumstance? That question is going to come up for every hockey player. It might not be fun, but it will be interesting to see how players react to getting back on the ice in groups.
Item Two: Taylor Hall’s Rollerblading Around Toronto: What’s Up with That?
On May 14, there was a Taylor Hall sighting in what looks to be the Etobicoke neighbourhood of Toronto. It was an Instagram photo of Hall skating somewhere in the city with a cryptic caption that simply said, “New hood.” Does this mean anything other than Hall’s in Toronto rollerblading?
The fact that he’s in Toronto sporting a Raptors cap raises all sorts of questions. Could the former NHL MVP and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent sign a contract? And, is that contract one to play hockey with the Maple Leafs or to purchase real estate?
The caption suggests that Hall might be in Toronto for a time. Maybe he and Drake are best buds? If he’s now living in Etobicoke he’s in good hockey company. A number of other Maple Leafs players already live there (Jake Muzzin being one) because it’s close to the Ford Performance Centre where the Maple Leafs practice.
Pierre LeBrun might have given a hint about Hall in an article in The Athletic last month. He noted that Hall had headed home to Toronto during the pandemic because he had been renting Auston Matthews’ place in Arizona and thought Matthews might want it back.
Perhaps Hall has lived in Toronto for some time. He was born and lived in Calgary until he was 13 years old when his family moved to Kingston, Ontario, (from “Taylor Hall on ‘weird time,’ importance of playing games before playoffs,” Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic, 15/04/20).
Maybe nothing’s up, but still there’s speculation.
Item Three: Is Travis Dermott’s Time Up in Toronto?
In a recent article, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox discussed what the Maple Leafs’ recent signing of defenseman Mikko Lehtonen might mean to Travis Dermott’s status with the team. Dermott is an RFA after the 2019-20 season, and Fox believes that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas will need to make moves this offseason to figure out where Lehtonen fits. Still, Fox believes it’s wise to re-sign Dermott to a bridge deal.
Dermott is coming off his entry-level deal and doesn’t have arbitration rights. Given the salary-cap squeeze that’s likely to occur because of lost revenue due to the NHL’s hiatus, it would be difficult to comprehend any kind of a big raise for almost anyone. Furthermore, Dermott’s been fine as a young player but hasn’t done much to distinguish himself.
He should be affordable, and if Lehtonen struggles, the Maple Leafs will be glad they can call upon Dermott in a pinch.
The COVID-19 pandemic will change the context for this year’s free agents. In short, unless you’ve had an amazing season or your name is Matthew Barzal, it’s not a great time for you to sign a new contract.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have a coaching position to fill after they announced earlier this week that assistant coach Paul McFarland is leaving to become head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs. So, Dubas and his team will be searching for a new coach.
In addition, similar to other professional sports, discussions will continue about what a return to the ice might look like. We should all expect complications.
We’ll see what the weekend brings. As always, even without hockey games to watch, the news and rumors are interesting.