The first concrete news of a possible restart of the NHL regular season is finally out there. Everything has been pure speculation, but now we have something to chew on.
When the NHL season went on a pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nashville Predators had narrowly squeaked into a wildcard spot and were playing some of their best hockey of the entire season.
They literally couldn’t have cut it any closer. Then there was speculation about skipping the 189 regular season games remaining for the NHL regular season, and just going directly into the playoffs with the current field based on point percentages.
I never liked that scenario, even though the Predators would technically be in the field. I was always hopeful that, if health officials and experts deemed it safe, that the NHL figure out a way to complete the regular season.
According to an interview from Sportsnet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and a report from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, the NHL is discussing a plan to complete the regular season in its entirety in July.
Looking over the plan
The biggest takeaway from this plan laid out by Bettman is the games being played at neutral sites and having multiple games in one day.
Here’s a pretty interesting quote from Bettman regarding the centralized game locations and the impact on the playoffs:
"“Ideally from our standpoint would be if we can complete the regular season, even if it’s on a centralized basis, and then go into the playoffs that we normally play.”"
Think about how tournaments are held in one venue with multiple games in one day. This would basically be that, and is very conceivable to see happening if health officials say it’s safe to do so.
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As much as we want hockey back, you can’t cut corners here in any way. It has be 100 percent safe for everyone involved, and July is an aggressive time to shoot for. The draft may be held as early as June if this all pans out.
But you can’t wait any later than July to get this season completed without affecting the 2020-21 season. You definitely don’t want to negatively impact two NHL seasons if you don’t have to.
Another interesting takeaway from this plan is the draft being held before the season would be completed. That’s been another big unknown is how and when the NHL Entry Draft will be conducted.
The NFL is going forward with their draft beginning tonight, and it will all be digitally and through teleconferencing. I’d assume the NHL would use the NFL’s approach as a blueprint to how they’ll conduct theirs, but obviously on a much smaller scale than the mega giant that the NFL is.
Wyshynski thinks holding the draft in June is a bad idea, citing that how you order the draft positions without a finished regular season could have a bad result. Especially when considering the draft lottery. It’s a great read that I encourage you to go look at:
How this affects the Predators
This makes the final stretch run of the NHL regular season even more unpredictable than it already is during normal times.
There won’t be fans at these remaining regular season games, presumably, and that will have an impact on the mentality of the game. Who knows how big of an impact, but it will certainly impact it in some way.
As it pertains to the Predators, they’re firmly on that playoff bubble with 13 games left. They’ve always had the talent to beat anyone, which is why it was so frustrating to see them struggle to even remain in the playoff field for much of the season.
If the Predators can flip a switch in these neutral site games with no fans, then they can really surge up the standing. They were really starting to find their chemistry and put together some promising result before the pause.
Not only could they easily make the playoffs for a fifth-straight season, but they could realistically catch the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division.
The Predators are just four points behind the Stars in the division after beating them twice in two days just before the season was halted in mid-March.
The remaining opponents for the Predators has several teams that are in the playoff hunt or are already firmly in a playoff spot.
Two games left against Colorado, Minnesota and Winnipeg. These are by far the most important matchups left for the Predators to need wins in.
There’s just no way to know how the players are going to respond to this unprecedented situation. Some people think the season should just be scrapped and it’s not worth it. Others think this is part of getting back to normal and there’s a safe way to do this.
Another interesting and important quote from Bettman is in regards to the importance of the players getting into game shape before these critical games are played:
"“We don’t want the players playing games that matter until they’re in game shape. The fact is that none of our guys have been on skates, and we have to make sure that they’re in game-ready condition.”"
I can’t agree with that statement from Bettman enough. You can’t restart the season until the players have ample amounts of time to get back into game shape.
No matter what happens, this season will always have an asterisk next to it. Nothing is normal about this.
If it is indeed safe to get back to hockey through this tentative plan in July, then it will be a welcome sight to see and Bettman will deserve a lot of credit for handling this situation so well as league commissioner.
For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health