The Buffalo Sabers are joining an NHL-wide movement in paying its players their expected signing bonuses on schedule; despite COVID-19 related financial struggles.
The Sabers will pay just over $19 million of a total $300 million league wide; even with a shortened season and altered version of the Stanley Cup Playoffs losing the league a stadium full of cash. Under normal circumstances some teams would likely be breaking open their piggy banks with the annual opening of free agency; but now its going to players like Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen.
For the Sabers, the lack of a postseason is less of an excuse as the team’s record of 30-31-8 kept them out of even the expanded playoff field adopted for the unique situation. But they might still consider themselves lucky however, as their pay out is just a fraction of other teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs especially, who owe a league-high $60 million to various players.
The Leaf’s star center Auston Matthews is set to take home the largest haul in the NHL with a bonus of over $15 million coming his way. Matthews is earning his keep in his fourth season in the league; racking up 90 points with 47 goals in 70 games played before the league suspended operations. His running mate Mitch Marner has the distinction of the second highest bonus; taking home $14.3 million with 51 assists this season.
The NHL and NHLPA also announced on Wednesday an agreement to extend all expiring contracts that would have expired today; as well as allowing players to opt-out of participating in the league’s return.
The NHL is heading towards “Phase Three,” of its return to action; which involves players of teams still in contention returning to training camp on July 10. With 26 player’s testing positive so far however this date is flexible; and the league has yet to decide on an official date to restart games.
Whenever games do return, play will look a little different.
The regular season is officially over, and 24 teams will compete in a rather different rendition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 12 best teams in each conference based on points percentage qualify for the tournament; seeded 1-12, with a “qualifying round,” followed by a more traditional playoff.
The top four clubs will each face off in a round robin tournament to determine seeds 1-4 after the qualifying rounds. Seeds 5-12 must battle it out in best-of-five series’ to slim the field to eight teams per conference; at which point the playoffs will resume their traditional format.
Another question that needs answering is where these games will take place. The current plan is to choose two hub cities, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western, where all teams will play together. The league has yet to select any location as of yet; but recent rumors indicate the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Toronto as the likely choices.
But as with all other matters in the COVID era, circumstances can change and plans blow up at any moment.