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Hamilton: It's great to talk hockey, but will there be a season?

The tentative plan is for training camp to start in mid-November and for the season to start December 1, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made no guarantees.
Credit: AP
Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov (86) hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton, Alberta, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — TSN’s Bob McKenzie sent Sabres fans into a tizzy this week when he wrote that teams had been talking to Buffalo about Jack Eichel.

He finally got around to saying just what I reported on WGRZ in mid-July that Eichel does not want to be traded, nor do the Sabres want to trade him.

Adams told The Instigators on Monday that he has no intention of trading Eichel and he has many conversations every day with other general managers. 

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Wednesday that it wouldn’t make any sense for the Sabres to trade Eichel because they have a budget well under the NHL’s Salary Cap and that the Pegulas have already paid Eichel a $7.5 million signing bonus for 2020-21, which is 75% of his salary.  

The question I have is this: Is there even going to be a season?

The tentative plan is for training camp to start in mid-November and for the season to start December 1, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged that isn’t a hard date and things could get pushed back. 

I have been saying on the air for months that I don’t think the NHL can have a season without fans. Ticket revenues account for more than 60% of a teams revenue and more and more hockey insiders are starting to say the same thing.

I’ve been told by people inside organizations that there’s no way owners will let a season start without a plan that gets the fans in their buildings. In my mind, the only way to ensure that is a vaccine or rapid tests that can tell that you were tested for COVID that day and came up negative.

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel (9) carries the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Abbott Labs has developed such a test called Binaxnow, and if successful, it could be a game-changer for everything from restaurants, flights, games and concerts. You would have an app on your phone that would show that you had a negative test that day. 

I had lunch with Rob Ray, and he did bring up an interesting point. Do players have to be paid for the season even if there isn’t one? I have contacted sources inside the NHLPA as well as other places, and nobody seems to have an answer to that question.

If players have to be paid, then there will be a season, whether there are fans or not. That’s where the idea of a hybrid bubble comes in.

The NHL and the Players Association are talking about a plan that would put teams in numerous bubbles for two weeks. After that, the players would be allowed to go home for one week before being isolated again. 

Frank Seravalli of TSN said there would be four to six bubbles in cities where fans would be allowed in arenas. Because of border restrictions, there would have to be a bubble in Canada, and for one season there would be an all-Canadian division.

Seravalli said the NHLPA is finalizing a committee of players to participate in the talks with the NHL. 

Bettman couldn’t guarantee that there would not be a season. If that happens, that means it would be a year and a half in between games for Sabres like Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.

What a shame that would be to be wasting prime years of two players like that. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just where our world is today thanks to circumstances that none of us could have ever have dreamed up with our wildest imaginations.