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NHL Return

Scrap the Return, Start Fresh in Fall? No, Why We Need the NHL Playoffs



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Environment plays a role in perception. You don’t need to have an advanced degree in psychology to understand if negativity about a particular idea surrounds you, your attitude too will be negative. Motivations are formed and shaped, also. So, when an NHL player on a prominent team or recently former player speaks out against the NHL return and coming Phase 4 NHL playoffs, should we listen?

This week, former Vancouver defenseman, now hockey analyst, Kevin Bieksa flatly panned the NHL return.

“Honestly, half the guys that I have talked to don’t even want to play,” Bieksa told Sportsnet morning radio hosts Tim and Sid. “They think that the season should just be called and start fresh in the fall.”

In full disclosure, for every NHL Return to Play story and Facebook post from Pittsburgh Hockey Now, there is a stiffly worded comment or two with nearly those exact words.

We’ll assume Bieksa and a few players aren’t the ones responsible for the comments. Until now, the comments came off as overly negative or pessimistic. “Can’t” isn’t a word I generally accept. I’ve excised people from my life over that word.

However, Bieksa’s comments combined with the less than perfect attendance of players in Phase 2 of the NHL return does point to some dragging feet or opposition.

As of Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins Qualifying Round opponent, the Montreal Canadiens, had not yet opened their facilities for Phase 2 because of “a lack of demand.” Only two Montreal players were actually in Montreal.

The facility finally opened on Tuesday. 

First, the psychological effect of the group is vital. The Penguins were not unanimous, nor perhaps were they keen on the 24-team agreement. One team source adamantly claimed the Penguins voted against the proposal. However, the team and NHLPA Kris Letang went on record to refute the original PHN story, which we retracted when we believed our report to incorrect.

That was a humbling moment for me personally, but it sprang a few positives, which shed more light on the situation.

In rejecting the since retracted report, the team had to concede it was a tough vote. The format was weird. Teams that didn’t deserve to be in the NHL playoffs would have a chance to knock out teams that did earn a berth. Players could have to quarantine away from friends and family for more than three months. And, it will delay the start of the 2020-21 NHL season by at least a couple of months.

There is a lot not to like about the NHL return.

However, this is where the environment comes into play. Immediately after the NHL and NHLPA agreement, the Penguins players got excited. They shed the negatives and rallied amongst themselves. The next negative word we hear, through backchannels or on the record, will be the first since the vote.

Enthusiastic phrases like “drop the puck” filled our DMs and texts.

We shouldn’t overlook the societal benefits, either. Damn, we need some good news, and sports provide the bonding experience our society currently lacks.

Obviously, not every team is excited by the possibility of the Stanley Cup and being a unifying force.

Courtesy of Sportsnet radio, Bieksa put the boots to the NHL return.

“A lot of friends that I have and a lot of people that I’ve talked to that are going to be playing, they still don’t have their equipment, they still haven’t skated,” Bieksa said on Sportsnet 650. “They’re still very skeptical. “They haven’t been told anything by their team, so I’m skeptical. … I wouldn’t jump the gun if I were the fans … I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much yet.”

It’s also not hard to imagine some teams flatlining because they’re not 100% fully, truly, genuinely invested in the tournament. Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane similarly pumped the breaks last week.

Anyone else noticing a pattern?

Teams that aren’t Stanley Cup contenders are having issues finding the motivation and the passion for charging forward. The Toronto Maple Leafs reported more than 20 players showed up for the start of Phase 2 voluntary workouts. The Penguins reported more than half of their team showed up.

So, should the NHL scrap it all and return in the fall? Hell no. That argument only works if you can guarantee or at least reasonably predict fans will be allowed to attend games in October.

I can’t.

Consider the Timeframe

The one factor which no one can predict is the future.

Starting fresh in the fall is far from a certainty from being possible or even plausible. Current trends of COVID-19 are mixed. Toronto and Pittsburgh have very low rates. Columbus is experiencing a spike. Las Vegas is also experiencing a spike in new cases, but not in hospitalizations.

Is the virus indeed lessening itself, as some prominent experts and hospitals are suggesting? Or is it receding in the sunlight of summer, only to roar back with a vengeance in the fall?

Logically, there won’t be much difference in the country between August and October. If fans aren’t allowed in the barn by August, they probably wouldn’t be allowed in October. Not until there is a vaccine, or we’re collectively convinced the virus no longer poses an imminent threat to our wellbeing. We’re far from either.

The NHL is more dependent on gate revenues than any of the other major sports leagues in North America. And this is the mostly unspoken, but necessary point to consider about an NHL return this summer.

If the second wave of COVID-19 does indeed hit this fall as most experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the CDC, have warned, the NHL season couldn’t start on time, anyway.

By playing in the summer, during a “recession” phase, the NHL could finish this season, then be ready as the world is ready to reopen because a vaccine has indeed produced this fall. Nearly a dozen companies and world governments are pushing towards it.

If that very possible scenario unfolds, the NHL will have played it perfectly. They’ll have garnered more attention and TV revenues during a time when even casual fans are starving for nourishment, and they’ll have set themselves up perfectly for the next season WITH fans in the stands.

Or, if the coronavirus vaccine is delayed or not coming, and there is a devastating second wave, the NHL couldn’t start on time anyway.

So, the simple answer is–YES, the NHL is absolutely playing the situation well, and the NHL should return this summer though perhaps NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman could explain the bigger picture to the players.

The NHL playoffs will be a boon to the game in an otherwise terrible time,