HodgePodge By Charlie Hodge
Just as I was learning to expect the unexpected something I never suspected happened.
Hockey is coming back.
While millions around the world have struggled with one challenge or another during the past pandemic crises – Canadians (and a few south of the border) have had an additional stressor added to their world. It’s been more than two months since we have watched an NHL game.
Some things are just wrong – and for Canadians high on that list is no hockey. Take away our ability to work, or visit with friends and family, or go to the mall, pub, or out for dinner – and Canadians will adapt. However to take away hockey walks the line on cruel and unusual punishment. One can be expected to put up with only so much heartbreak and agony.
I’m positive that watching hockey is written into our Canadian Charter of Rights. If not then we need to change that immediately once our government gets back to work (suggesting they actually might ‘work’ at all).
Of significant additional discomfort with the NHL shut down was that Canadian teams were doing pretty darn good before the league regular season folded. In fact my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs were even starting to look like potential Stanley Cup contenders. (Is delusional thinking a symptom of COVID19)?
On Tuesday NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a somewhat convoluted proposal of a 24 team playoff format involving 12 teams from both the Western Conference and Eastern Conference. The exact details of how the format will unravel are still being laid out however the Return to Play Plan released Tuesday will begin with a 16-team, eight-series Qualifying Round and a Seeding Round Robin among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The NHL paused the regular season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The remaining 189 games will not be completed. The 12 qualifying teams from the Eastern and Western conferences were determined by points percentage as of that date. Seven teams did not qualify to advance.
Under the proposal the Vancouver Canucks will meet Minnesota in the qualifying round, my Leafs will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The format was determined by the Return to Play Committee which included executives from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, and five players: Ottawa Senators defenseman Ron Hainsey Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele, Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares, and Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk.
The ‘plan’ is still fraught with a number of hurdles the league and players will have to resolve first. Certainly travel and accommodation are high priorities as are game locations.
Of biggest question for many fans, however, is how does one socially distance themselves in a high speed contact team sport?
They don’t of course. Short of three players for each team on the ice and no body contact, face-offs, benches, penalty boxes, it seems impossible to hold such games. However, the NHL, player unions and associations are apparently prepared to work around such dilemmas. While that willingness to adapt may be fine with the NHL and the players – it will be interesting to see how the proposal flies in face of medical and government scrutiny.
In Canada how will the 14-day quarantine factor kick in for players travelling back and forth to the United States?
Does that limitation eliminate Canada from hosting any of the games proposed for the two as of yet unidentified cities from which all games will be held?
How will teams generate income if no fans are allowed in the buildings?
What do the referees have to say about all of this, since they would ultimately be the social distancing monitors? Breaking up any potential player scrums or gatherings suddenly takes on a whole other level of seriousness with the virus potential.
All jesting aside one must ponder if indeed, given the multiple challenges ahead whether or not the desired playoff format will actually ever get to fruition?
Or even whether it philosophically should?
As big a hockey nut as I am, even I question whether the wants and desires of pro sport should be treated any greater or less than any other working rules of the new day. Should pro athletes suddenly not have to socially distance or quarantine – simply because they are elite or because fans need their sports fix?
Socially I understand the need for positive things to focus on, for a distraction and a glint of positive hope for all. But is it logical, reasonable, safe?
What sort of messages are we sending if this moves forward?
At what point do we come out of our bubbles that have thus proven effective and imperative?
I do not have any more of an answer than anyone else. What I do know is that given half the chance of watching Toronto kick Columbus’s butt and Vancouver smother Minnesota on TV would be a lot more fun than one more re-run of Little House on the Prairie.