The NHL and the NHLPA voted this week on a resumption plan that would involve 24 teams with a play-in format for teams on the playoff bubble.
The top four teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences (which would include the Stars) would play in a round-robin for seeding, while the other 16 teams would play a five-game play-in round to determine the other 8 teams that play for the Stanley Cup.
On the face of it the plan could work out well for the Stars, with a potential first-round matchup against a very beatable team.
Should the seeding remain the same as it currently stands among the first 4 teams in the Western Conference the Stars could avoid the bogey that is the St. Louis Blues all the way to the Conference Final.
If the Stars get lucky a team like the Colorado Avalanche (who the Stars swept in the regular season) could take the Blues out along the way. The approved format seems to inject an entertaining level of chaos into the Stanley Cup, with its focus on Conference play, rather than the rather tired divisional rivalries.
There still remains much to work out however before play can resume. Not least how to keep players and staff safe. Can a league that had not one but TWO outbreaks of mumps in the last decade really be trusted to manage COVID-19? There has been a vaccination against mumps since 1967 and yet the infection spread like wildfire. There is also the idea that not just players, but coaches, trainers, equipment staff, and others will likely be asked to leave their families and isolate in hub cities.
It seems there has been a degree of “suck it up buttercup” among certain fans online, however, players are people too, and is it right to ask them to risk their lives and health for what is ultimately an entertainment product?
It’s well known that a number of players have medical conditions that could put them at serious risk, even given their youth and otherwise robust health, how many more key staff members have pre-existing conditions which could endanger them?
The NHL is a league played in two countries with more international players than any other North American sports league, which raises further issues. It’s been indicated that travel restrictions from Europe will be waived for pro-sports but many players may have to renew or extend visas, a process which usually requires attending a US consulate in your home country. This is complicated by the fact most US Consulates are currently closed to the public.
Players and fans all seem keen to have hockey return but many issues have to be resolved before that happens in a safe fashion. The players and staff should not be compelled to return before their safety can be assured, while we all miss hockey, no one should be asked to risk their lives for a game.
Even if the season should resume it’s also worth noting that many people have floated that the second wave of corona may arrive in the fall, just as the 2021-2022 season is slated to get underway.
Playing in front of fans in the immediate future, and perhaps anytime before next year at the earliest seems unlikely, a depressing thought for those of us who miss attending games.
Featured Image: nhl.bamcontent.com