The NHLPA and its player representatives coalesced around the 24-team NHL return to play format in which 12 teams from each conference were awarded figurative playoff berths through a Qualifying Round and only four teams in each conference earned byes. After many reports of misgivings and some resistance, Pittsburgh Penguins player rep Kris Letang liked the result.
Safety emerged as a primary concern but the NHL assured the players’ union that steps were being taken and will be taken, as evidenced by the 29-page memo for precations and requirements for the NHL move to Phase 2.
“I’ve had my fair share of questions and they’ve all been answered,” Letang said. “I would say that I would be safe to play.”
Later, Letang expounded.
“(The goal) is to grow the game, and we make our sport proud,” he said. “At the same time, I think every question about safety, which is the most important thing for everybody. That’s what the focus has been on. The NHL and NHLPA agree on that.”
The admission by Letang was a significant, not just for safety concerns, but because it shows how closely the NHL and NHLPA have worked through the process.
Agents and some players, such as Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk voiced concerns before the vote last Friday. The vote wasn’t unanimous, though even teams that had misgivings joined the affirmative side as the voting continued. Disagreements centered on the fairness of 24-teams, not over safety concerns.
Tampa Bay and Carolina officially voted No, but reportedly 29 other teams voted yes.
“(24-teams), the process was not only to make it fair but to make a number that is working with the eight teams per side formula,” Letang said. “It was tough to take the points you get in the season, your standings and division, and also the fact that we were on the verge of making the playoffs and mixing everything. …24 was always the best number.”
–The NHLPA is reportedly calling player reps to gauge feelings on five-game or seven-game series for Round One and Round Two. Letang seemed to let him vote known:
“I’ve talked to a bunch of guys, and one thing comes up. Everybody is used to the best-of-7. You know the structure, how it feels if you win or lose the first two. I don’t think any players in this league that played in best-of-five. It’s just easier to put it to a best-of-7 because everyone knows what to expect. You have no excuses.”
–Alex Letang famously stole the show at the 2020 NHL All-Star game media day. Letang’s young son held court as if he was the star of the show. The delightfully honest answers and media back and forth earned the little Letang an NHL nomination in the fan’s choice awards.
“He would like to win. He’s sending all of his friends videos and texts to vote for him. I think it’s pretty funny.”
–The cooperation between the NHL and NHLPA has been exemplary. Perhaps the best in decades, and certainly the closest the two sides have been in Gary Bettman’s tenure as NHL Commissioner.
“Everybody has the same goal, it’s to grow the game and make our sport proud. But questions about safety, the most important thing for everybody, that’s been the focus. I think the NHL and NHLPA agree on that.”