It’s days away from a final vote on the NHL’s Return To Play initiative. There could be Nashville Predators hockey on August 1.
If the vote goes through, training camp for the Nashville Predators will begin on July 13. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, the camp could last for two weeks or so.
Following the training camp, the Predators will be traveling to their presumptive hub city, Edmonton, on July 26. Once in the NHL’s “Phase 4 Secure Zone,” things start to get real. But let’s back up a bit.
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We all remember that fateful day when the NHL announced they were pausing the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I recall seeing the picture of all of the Predators’ gear outside their locker room in Toronto as the team was making their way back to the states.
After getting over the initial shock of the season pause, people started asking about the Stanley Cup playoffs. One second after that, fans split into two camps.
Camp one wants to cancel the Stanley Cup playoffs. Camp two wants to press on and crown a champion.
There’s also talk of this year’s Stanley Cup winner having an asterisk by their name.
The asterisk would insinuate that this Stanley Cup doesn’t mean as much or that the team that wins didn’t have to work as hard because the season wasn’t completed.
Nothing could be further from the truth if you ask me.
The Stanley Cup, in some form or fashion, has been awarded almost every year since 1893. It has been handed out during the Great Depression, two World Wars, and several other major events in our history.
In fact, there have only been two instances where Lord Stanley hasn’t been awarded; the Spanish Flu Epidemic in 1919 and during the NHL lockout in 2004-2005. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t want to make this year the third time.
If anything, this year’s Stanley Cup will be the most difficult to win since the its inception. Everything about the end of this season is different and bizarre.
Phase 2 and Phase 3
Teams that were on hot streaks before the pause haven’t played hockey in three months. Players haven’t even had consistent access to ice and up until recently, have had to rely upon home workouts.
The Predators were one of those hot-streak teams. They were finally coming together on the ice and making some serious progress when the season was halted.
Can the figure out a way to pick back up that momentum in quick order? That’s the key because there’s no time to waste with just a five-game qualifying series.
Phase 3 is where the work begins and when this plan starts to take shape. It’s when training camps are scheduled to start.
All players should have returned to their home cities by now so that they can participate in the July 13 camp.
If all goes according to plan, training camp will be concluded in around two weeks, and the teams can then head to their hub city. Remember where I said Phase 4 is where everything gets real? Here we go.
Phase 4 Protocols
Phase 4 is when the actual playoffs start and where the hard road begins. If everything goes according to plan, Phase 4 will start on August 1.
If you haven’t taken a peek at the Phase 4 proposal document, it is 28 pages that are loaded full of rules and regulations about the playoffs.
For the sake of time, let’s take a look at a few of the more significant rules that will affect players and how these playoff games are viewed.
- Secure Zones – The hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton are referred to as “Secure Zones” in the document. When they say secure, they mean secure. Each Secure Zone has designated boundaries that must be followed. Once inside, NHL players and personnel are expected to stay inside the secure zone and not leave. If players do have to leave for whatever reason, they will have to follow quarantine protocols upon their return. The Secure Zones include the arena, hotels, restaurants, etcetera, that fall within the designated boundaries.
- Hotels – Each team will have its own floor in their assigned Secure Zone hotel. Players will have their individual rooms and will not be permitted to enter other player’s rooms. Social distancing must be adhered to in all areas of the hotel, and face masks must be used at all times.
- Family Members – Family members are not permitted to visit players while they are in the Secure Zones until the conference finals. When they are allowed to attend, they must adhere to COVID testing and quarantine protocols. Family members are also expected to adhere to all social distancing protocols before, during, and after traveling to the Secure Zones.
This is just a small sample of the rules and regulations pertaining to these playoffs. There is everything from protocols for disinfecting the team’s charter plane to COVID-19 test schedules for in-arena workers. It is a very comprehensive and all-encompassing list.
What makes this playoff run so unique?
One could argue that all of the rules involved with these playoffs could help a team by removing the hometown and away game distractions. I don’t think that’s the case, though.
These players are entering uncharted territory. They will be sequestered in their Secure Zone for a decent amount of time.
There will be activities for them to participate in, but they will still be stuck in a specific area and not allowed to leave.
The players will also not be able to see their families for an extended period. For guys with small children or who are recently married, this can weigh on you as time passes. Time away in the middle of a pandemic can make things even worse.
There is also the pressure of making sure you are following all the rules and protecting yourself from contracting COVID-19.
If players test positive or come in contact with someone who is infected, a lengthy quarantine period has to take place.
Quarantine means time away from the game, which could impact the outcome of a playoff. When your teammates are counting on you, this could be a big deal.
In addition to the normal playoff pressure, teams and players have an added layer with the COVID-19 pandemic and everything associated with it.
It’s a known fact that hockey players are among the toughest athletes in all of sports. This year’s NHL playoffs are going to push these athletes even farther than they usually do.
The Predators’ season has been an emotional roller coaster. This opportunity to win the Stanley Cup is one that they can’t take lightly. They will need to focus, forget about this season’s troubles, work hard, and try not to worry about this unique situation.
If fans insist on putting an asterisk by the name of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, then let it stand for “the hardest fought Cup of all time.”