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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 22, 2020
In a Stanley Cup playoff series in an empty arena, it would certainly be easy for a general manager — usually seated high above in the press-box — to make his opinions known.
To his skating stars.
To the men in stripes.
To millions of fans watching on their flat-screens at home.
“They won’t have a mic up there, and that’s probably good. Nobody needs to hear that,” chuckled Flames GM Brad Treliving on his weekly conference call with local media. “But that’s been an interesting discussion as this is all going on. I did take in my first Bundesliga game last week and it was interesting — I don’t know if anybody watched it, but you could hear some stuff …
“There’s been lots of talk about how you deal with that.”
It won’t be easy for these competitive gents to bite their tongues once the action resumes, but what you won’t hear is Treliving griping about any potential return-to-play scenario.
He’s received no official word from the league headquarters but has been reading the same reports as everyone else.
The latest, of course, is word the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to a framework for a 24-team playoff format in a pair of hub cities. The Flames would battle the Winnipeg Jets in a best-of-five play-in series, with the winner advancing to meet the top seed in the Western Conference.
The NHLPA announced Friday evening that its executive board has voted to approve the proposal, but that “several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”
Treliving has repeated time and time again that a summer re-start would be welcome news because, above all else, it will mean there’s been significant progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19. He reiterated on Friday’s afternoon call that he would “embrace” any post-season plan, but isn’t going to dig too deep into preparations until it’s made official.
“It’s going to be something that isn’t ‘traditional’ or what we had in place, and that’s fine. That’s OK. We’re in a brave new world,” Treliving said. “As much as there is always debate on things … If the worst thing in our day right now is determining if there are 24 or 20 or 18 or 16 teams in a playoff, then we’re having a pretty good day if that’s the biggest issue on our check-list.”
The Flames played 70 regular-season games before the pandemic pause, posting a 36-27-7 record.
Under the 24-team scenario that is now one step closer to being finalized, they would be seeded eighth out of a dozen squads in the Western Conference bracket.
Including the play-in round, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Matthew Tkachuk & Co. would need to rack up 19 spring wins to have their names engraved on the NHL’s big prize.
“If you’re awarding a Stanley Cup … The struggle and the degree of difficulty, I think, has to be there,” Treliving said. “People have talked and asked, ‘Is there going to be an asterisk beside whoever wins this?’
“If we’re getting back and playing hockey, that means No. 1, that we’re progressing as a society, which is good, and hopefully we’re getting on the other side of this. And at the end of the day, we’ve awarded the Stanley Cup under different circumstances at different times. Whoever wins this is going to be just as happy, just as proud, for whatever format they’re going to have to go through, and they should be very proud of themselves for doing it. It’s going to be unique, sure, but everybody is going to have an opportunity that participates in the format to be successful in it.
“We’ve had 48-game winners (in the lockout-shortened season), and they get rings just like everybody else got. So whatever the format is, we’re excited to be part of it, hopefully, and we’ll go after it.”
He added moments later: “To win it, it’s gotta be hard. And certainly, with what I read, it’s going to be a hard tournament to get through.”
It’s still hard to imagine playoff hockey without the roar of the crowd, although that’s the current reality across the sports landscape.
Perhaps, instead, you’ll be able to hear the players chirping, or the general manager cursing the referees after a questionable call.
“Professional sports, at its root, it’s entertainment. We’re in the entertainment business,” Treliving said. “I’m obviously biased but I think there is nothing better than a playoff hockey arena. The energy … There’s just nothing like it. Whether you’ve been around the sport for a year or 30 years, you know the difference of walking into a building in November and walking into a building in May.
“But once a puck is dropped … No question, it’ll be different. But I know the competitiveness of the players. They are competitive people by nature, and I think you’ll see very competitive play.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020