Hockey-starved fans got some much-needed good news on Tuesday as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled the league’s playoff plan during a virtual press conference. Yes, there is still more than a month to go before games are potentially played, and many hurdles (both financial and COVID-19 related) must be cleared before anyone steps on the ice.
But there is a 24-team plan in place that would feature games in two hub cities (St. Paul remains in the running) and have the 10th-seeded Minnesota Wild playing the seventh-seeded Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-five qualifying round that will determine which one advances to the playoffs. Considering we haven’t seen hockey since play was suspended on March 12 because of the pandemic, dicussion about training camps and matchups serves as a welcome respite from the real world.
Unfortunately, there is another side to this if you’re the Wild. Do you really want this season to resume, thus possibly delaying the start of the 2020-21 season until December or even January? Or do you want next season to start as close to on time as possible, assuming that can happen?
This topic is broached because of one player. That would be Wild-star-in-waiting Kirill Kaprizov. The 23-year-old left winger has spent the past six seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and had 33 goals and 29 assists in 57 regular-season games for CSKA Moscow this season. It marked the second consecutive season in which Kaprizov has led the KHL in goal scoring. He had 30 goals in 2018-19.
— KHL (@khl_eng) May 17, 2020
A fifth-round pick in 2015, Kaprizov is expected to be the type of dynamic offensive talent the Wild have lacked far too often since joining the NHL in 2000. Wild fans long have asked when Kaprizov might sign with the Wild, and general manager Bill Guerin has made making that happen a priority since his arrival last summer. Kaprizov’s contract in the KHL has expired, and reports are that he would like to make the move. The pandemic, however, has created some unexpected hurdles.
Kaprizov wants to play for the Wild, if and when this season resumes. Ordinarily, he would have been eligible to sign a two-year entry level contract and begin playing immediately. But the NHL put a halt to that because of COVID-19, so while Kaprizov can sign with Minnesota he won’t be eligible to take the ice until next season. That means his contract would not start until then.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) May 26, 2020
That’s where we get to the real issue. Would Kaprizov be willing to be patient and wait to make his NHL debut, or would he return to the KHL and possibly be able to play a far more complete schedule in that league than he would in the NHL? You couldn’t blame him if Kaprizov picked the latter path and stayed home.
This doesn’t mean the Wild wouldn’t get Kaprizov, but it would be a setback for a team that desperately needs his skillset. If Kaprizov’s decision is going to be based on when the 2020-21 season opens, the Wild have to be pulling for that to happen as soon as possible. And if that means seeing the 2019-20 season called off? That’s probably an exchange the Wild would be willing to make.