With the end of play, the organization now shifts its focus to the NHL draft and preparing for the 2020-21 season.
General manager and team president, Don Waddell, joined head coach Rod Brind’Amour to speak with the media over Zoom on Monday morning.
On the decisions to make regarding who will be on the blueline next year regarding upcoming UFAs: We’re just starting to talk about our plans for next year as we’ve just finished out meetings for this year. We think our defense is one of the better in the league and we want to keep the group together as much as we can. Right now, I couldn’t give you a definite answer on any of those guys other than we feel that it is the strength of our hockey club and we need to continue that moving forward.
On discussions with Andrei Svechnikov, Dougie Hamilton and Rod Brind’Amour on extensions: As far as the players, I’ve never been one to say publicly how negotiations are going to go. Certainly they’re important players for this organization and it makes more sense to get to it sooner than later. You’re looking at two different kinds of contracts. Dougie Hamilton will be an unrestricted free agent come the next upcoming year. Andrei will be coming off his entry-level deal, so it’s two different kinds of negotiations you’re looking at. I think there’s no timetable or deadlines really. They both have another year left so I’m confident. We have a good relationship with both players and I fully expect both players to want to stay here. As far as Rod, we haven’t gotten into that yet. We got done on Thursday and we just got back so we’ll talk about it internally and if we ever have something to tell you guys, we’ll make sure you’re the second to know.
On signing the two restricted free agents, Warren Foegele and Haydn Fleury: We’ll get them done. There are not too many negotiations that I ever say are not too much trouble because they hire representation to get as much money as they can and we’re trying to pay them what their value is to our hockey club, but I fully expect both to get done. It might take a little longer on one of them, but in time we’ll get them both done.
On Andrei Svechnikov: He’ll be ready, 100% . He’s actually feeling very good. He’s doing treatment right now. It’s basically a sprain that he had. We did both x-rays and an MRI and they both showed nothing more than a sprain. Those high-ankle sprains can be one week to five weeks, but he’s in treatment right now. He’s walking good. I saw him the other day or so and he said he’s feeling good. No reason to think he won’t be ready [for next season].
On Brett Pesce: He’s right on target. Basically they say it was a six-month injury which is about next week. He’s been skating now. Everything that we’ve been involved with and getting reports about from his medical team back home where he is, have been very positive. There’s no reason to think he won’t be ready. He would have been ready for not the next round, but possibly the third round or Finals had we gotten that far and needed him. We believe he will be ready to roll.
On any other injury concerns coming out of the bubble: Nope. Guys were banged up a little, but I can’t think of anybody that had anything else. We were fortunate. Credit to our training staff and our strength and conditioning coach, Bill Burniston. How our guys prepared for the bubble, not only in Phase 2, Phase 3 but throughout the season. I think we have one of the best if not the best staff here in the league and that proves every year as we’re one of the teams with the least amount of games missed due to injury and that’s a credit to our staff.
On the most important issue to address for next season: Well Rod and I have talked about it. We made a few changes last year and the one thing you want to be careful of is always chasing something that might not be there. We’ve got a good group of guys here. They went through it last year and took another step this year, so you want to be careful. If we can upgrade our team at any position, we certainly will look at it, but we aren’t out here saying we have to make wholesale changes with our lineup. Certainly, there are things we have to be aware of. We’re a team that’s going to be close to the cap again, so we’ve got to be mindful of that. We’ll look at everything, but, again, I want to make it clear that the players that we have here have done a good job for us. You see it with all NHL teams that go through this process of getting to the next level, and we think we’ve made big strides here. Our young players have taken a big step this year and we want to be careful that we don’t get caught up and think we need to make a bunch of changes other than changes that you feel are really going to help your hockey club.
On the challenge of building to end a playoff drought versus building to win a cup: Always when you’re growing and trying to make that next step, every step is a difficult path. This franchise, for a long time, hadn’t been in the playoffs and now we’re in back-to-back. But Rod’s speech at the beginning of the year wasn’t about making the playoffs, it was about winning a championship. We’re not talking about this team just making the playoffs anymore, we’re talking about how we’re going to build a team that will go deep into the playoffs and eventually will win a Stanley Cup. Every step is difficult. There’s no easy step and you can see how these good teams, like Boston, you watch them play and they’re a very, very experienced team. You look at the years before they won the cup there, they went through some building processes and now they’ve got a very veteran team that’s been through it multiple times and knows how to win. We’re in that process now and the good thing is, and this isn’t anything against our older players, but players like Aho and Svechnikov, they are the young players on this team that are going to be with this franchise for a long time. These experiences that we’ve gone through in this past year are experiences that they will keep as they grow.
On his own timetable for winning a cup: I think when you start the season, your goal has to be to win the Stanley Cup. I’ve never heard anybody come in and say, ‘Okay. I want to make it to the Conference Finals this year and not win the cup.’ We all want to win. That’s the bottom line. I know the guy sitting next to me here has been with this organization and franchise for a long time and has hoisted the Stanley Cup at center ice here. There’s nobody here in this organization that doesn’t want to win the Stanley Cup from ownership right down. Our goal here is to not only compete, but try to win it.
On preparing for this year’s draft: The season shutdown sometime in the middle of March and most of your college games are done by that time and junior hockey is getting ready for the playoffs. We had enough viewings on all the players. What we did is we took the time through the pause and we had NHL meetings certain days and draft meetings other days to go through all players and make sure if we’re unsure about some guys or wanted to see some more, Darren Yorke who leads up that department just had guys watch more videos on those players. We think we’re fully prepared. We’re anxious to get a good player with our pick.
Financial and Business
On getting 82-games in next season: I do think the plan right now is to play all 82 games. Whenever we start, we all know it’s going to be a condensed schedule and it might run into the summer again next year before we get back on track. I don’t think the bubble idea is something that will work for a regular season. The economics just don’t work if you’re not playing with at least some fans, let alone all fans. What we went through was fine for trying to get this year in, but I don’t think it’s something you can do next year. As far as the outdoor game, we’re still planning on it. The date is obviously going to be in flex depending on where we’re at and with how many people you can have in the building, whether inside or outside. A lot of that is driven by the state, but I think we’re still on the agenda for an outdoor game. It could get pushed back for a year depending on what happens with the schedule. Right now, we’ve actually, in the last few days, have ordered our jerseys for it. We’re proceeding as if it’s going to happen, we just can’t say for sure that it’s happening in February. It will be more indicative once the schedule gets set and once the NHL decides when we’re going to open up.
On the financial ramifications of the pause and if the bubble was profitable at all: We got a little bit of money for TV. We had our deal with Fox which we owed them three games, so the qualifying round with the Rangers qualified that, so there was no additional money there. We’ll get a little money from the league from the TV deal after they take their expenses out. I’m not expecting a great amount. As far as the season, you know, we lost eight home games. Forget playoff revenue. Players got paid their full salaries per the CBA and it’s a big number from last year that we’re still working on. As far as next year goes, we’ve done all kinds of models. At 30% fans, 50%, 75%. If you can’t have 100%, you know you’re going to be losing a lot of money. You figure your local revenues, forget league revenues, is $70-75 million a year. Every time you take away say 25% of the home games, you know your revenue has dropped 25%. Either way, if we don’t play at full capacity, the losses are going to be big and that’s around the league. Our TV contract is what it is. It’s in place, so that’s not going to change. We know those numbers. These are tough times for everybody and we’ve been fortunate here to keep most of our people on our benefits. Tom Dundon has been excellent as far as dealing with our employees. We’re just hoping that come December or January, whatever that time frame is, not only from a hockey standpoint, but a building standpoint we know that next year could be a record breaking year for our building if we can get to that point. So that’s what we’re working towards right now.
On the AHL affiliate decision: We’re getting real close to making an announcement. I don’t have any signed documents yet to make an announcement, but we’ve looked into hopefully getting that wrapped up in a very short time. Once we do, we’ll be able to talk about what we’re doing.