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The National Hockey League shouldn’t rush to judgement on the rest of its regular season.
Instead, the best bet for commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and the league’s 31 owners is to play the waiting game before deciding what the next step will be. The league and all other major sports are on pause because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
If all had gone as planned, the NHL would have been heading into the final week of its season with all seven Canadian teams in action on Hockey Night in Canada on the final Saturday night — including rivalry matchups between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers against the Calgary Flames in the Battle of Alberta.
In addition, the Winnipeg Jets were to be on the road against the Arizona Coyotes, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins were to finish the season versus the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre and the Vancouver Canucks were to host the Vegas Golden Knights in what could have been a pivotal game for Western Conference playoff spots.
Of course, all this is on hold and we have no idea if these games will be played.
But the reality is the league has time before deciding on its next step when — or if — it does resume this season. Bettman and Daly will take their directives from the American Centers for Disease Control and Health Canada before determining when players will be allowed to return to rinks for what would be a short training camp before the resumption of game action.
Speaking in an interview on St. Louis radio station ESPN 101.7 on Tuesday, Blues vice-president and general manager Doug Armstrong said teams received a memo from the league stipulating that players wouldn’t return to rinks before April 15. That’s no surprise, but the NHL also hopes there will be a point when players will be allowed to work out together and skate in small groups.
“Those are just timelines. They go a week or two at a time and they don’t want to get too far ahead,” Armstrong said. “But we know now that won’t be having small-block training. I think that’s the next phase, hopefully. We don’t think we’re going to go from shelter in place to having large groups around, but we’d love to get the guys still in town back training in groups of five or six or seven at our practice facility.
“We’re still April 15 away from that and probably a little bit longer if you watch the government news. They shut everything down until April 30. We don’t want to be penny-wise and pound foolish. Sport is such a small part of what’s happening with society. We want to make sure we’re good citizens and we’re as sports leaders carrying the torch for every one on how to respond and how to react in this crazy time.”
Ideally, the Blues would have the opportunity to defend their Stanley Cup championship this spring and, if at all possible, the NHL would like St. Louis to get that chance after the full 82-game regular-season schedule. If the league decides to cancel the rest of the regular season too hastily, it can’t turn back on that move.
There’s still a lot left to be decided in both conferences as far as playoff wildcard spots go, which is why the league would like to get all 82 games completed.
“They haven’t given us any date. They probably have a date in mind and I don’t blame them for not sharing it because they probably hope we can get back earlier,” Armstrong said. “They have been consistent that they want to have an 82-game schedule next year, so you have to work back from when that can start to when it can finish.
“I don’t think they want to go into July next summer based on what I’ve been hearing. We want to have a normal playoff and regular season next year. You can condense that regular season (without) an all-star (game), and maybe not that seven-day break. I’m a little bit nervous about that because you want to make sure the players are healthy and I don’t think it’s great. You want to be careful not to play 82 games in 164 days.
“The wear and tear on the body, we have to be smart about this. I know Mr. Bettman and the union representatives understand that also. I think there’s a date they have in mind that they’re not sharing with us, and I think that’s the best way to go, not sharing it, and hoping this gets behind us sooner rather than later.”
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