We still don’t know what hockey is going to look like when it comes back, let alone even know when it’s going to be back, but @Calgary Flames General Manager Brad Treliving has suggested that we could start getting answers to those questions as early as next week.
“I think there’s momentum,” said the Calgary Flames GM Thursday. “No state secrets here, but I do sense some momentum that next week there could be at least a preliminary plan put in place for where we go.
However they decide to finish the season, and make no mistake that it’s almost a certainty the NHL will as Gary Bettman stated himself on Tuesday by saying that the idea of shutting down the season for good wasn’t even in the picture, it will not be done in a usual manner.
It’s going to be done in only a select few empty arenas in “hub cities” where multiple teams can congregate while still being socially distanced. Players who were injured and thought to be done for the season – think guys like Bryan Little – could possibly be back in the lineup to give their teams a boost. The NHL could finish out the regular season as it was scheduled, but if this thing drags on into mid-June or July, maybe they go straight to an expanded tournament format, but then the question becomes just how far do you expand things?
For what it’s worth, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in his most recent 31 Thoughts blog, was spit-balling an idea for a 24 team playoff format that would see six teams in one of four different divisions be put into a five game round-robin tournament. He has all seven Central teams being included, with the Minnesota Wild being shifted over the Pacific division group since the Ducks, Kings and Sharks are already pretty much out of the running.
All of these ideas are kind of crazy on their own and we haven’t even really talked about the most important part in all of this… The actual game.
TSN’s Ryan Rishaug spoke with an infectious disease expert earlier this week about what they would recommend for players to do once they step back on the ice, and some of the ideas are pretty dramatic.
Blue-Skying some potential tweaks to the game with a medical expert to allow play during a pandemic. See below for a few ideas and a quote from Bill Daly on the NHL's willingness to entertain potential changes. pic.twitter.com/Stdrl8gvZV
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) May 11, 2020
These are all worthwhile, common sense suggestions when talking about trying to prevent the spread of a respiratory disease, but when you look at each one in detail, every single suggestion seems almost impossible to pull off.
Full face shields? Have we not struggled for the last fifteen years to get players just to wear a half visor with the NHL eventually grandfathering them in as required equipment, even as we’ve seen multiple instances of players nearly losing their eye to errant sticks and skate blades? This may be the ‘easiest’ of the measures to get put in, and still I can’t imagine it happening without a lot of criticism from players – some of them having legit issues with needing to adjust their vision
No fighting? No scrums? Sure, fighting is already starting to be phased out of the game, but good luck stopping scrums which are about as commonplace in hockey as bad call from Tim Peel.
Coaches wearing masks? That’s going to take out half the fun of the game for Jets fans who love to play “What swear words did Maurice just use there?”
Paul Maurice is not mad at the refs, he's just disappointed.
Oh, wait.. Nope, he's mad. pic.twitter.com/DUj4znSoDB
— JetsNation (@NHLJetsNation) November 5, 2016
Maurice not a fan of that call. pic.twitter.com/xxEeJxe3tW
— Ryan (@DJ_Biff_WPG) November 7, 2017
No spitting? That’s about as second nature to hockey players as breathing and sometimes just as involuntary. Referees have enough to watch out for in a game as it is, now you’re going to ask them to watch out for spitting as well?
Again, not to say that these suggestions are bad. It’s quite the opposite in fact when you’re talking about the health and safety of players and team staff, but if you read the last part of Rishaug’s tweet, you see Bill Daly in a response to the idea of needing to bring in these changes by basically saying “sure, we *could* do all that, but do we really *need* to?”
Just as sure as the NHL is intent on bringing hockey back and finishing up the 2019-20 season, there will be changes needed to be made. We’ll likely see what we can expect as we watch other leagues open up – the German Bundesliga this weekend especially – but hockey has a much higher rate of physical contact than any of the other sports that are trying to make their way back into play over the next couple of months, so even then it’s going to be hard to see just how the NHL tries to pull this off until they actually get back onto the ice.