With hockey’s return seeming very far away, the NHL needs to come to a decision sooner rather than later because the decision could affect a lot of things.
With every day that passes, it seems more likely that the 2019-20 NHL season will be canceled, rather than continued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As fans, we all miss the sport dearly, as we know the players do as well. If it was up to me, hockey would be back tomorrow, but realistically that is just not a feasible possibility.
Jordan Eberle, a forward for the New York Islanders, stated he would have no problem continuing the season in the summer months, as he wants to play playoff hockey. He is not alone, as every player puts in the work and effort in order to help their team, and losing a season means that all the hard work was for nothing. Eberle also believes that there needs to be a date, a line in the sand, in which the league decides that this is a lost season.
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner stated that he believes this season is not savable at this point. And coming from a goalie, he would know.
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By canceling the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, it could mean the end of some long careers, such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who are in their age 40 and 43 seasons respectively. Even the ageless Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who just turned 43, could be thinking about potentially retiring.
Regardless if these veterans and other veterans getting up there in age decide to keep playing, their times as NHLers is coming to a near close, and they want to enjoy every last shift. By taking the season away for them, they may not get another chance to soak it all in or compete for a chance at the Stanley Cup.
However, if the season was to continue later during the summer months there would be some consequences that would impact the future of the league. For starters, the 2020-21 season would surely not start when expected. And yes, this depends on which summer months hockey rolls into.
Last season, the St. Louis Blues took home the Stanley Cup on June 12th. The players involved in the finals had around three months to prepare for this season, with other teams off-time varying based on when they were eliminated in the playoffs, or sadly if they were not involved.
This time off is for players to get to spend time with family and friends, and escape the game for a little. But many could say that during this halt in play, the players are getting to enjoy their families right now so they could afford to start the season like usual in October.
But the main reason for the off-time is to rest up and get healthy, in order to be ready for the next season. A lot of players battle with injuries, minor or major, throughout a season and use the offseason for surgeries and rehabs.
However, if the season ends up going into August, that means some players may have less than a month to heal, which could lead to more severe injuries down the road. The sport of hockey is mentally and physically draining, and players do not want to miss time, so they may battle through the pain as we have seen previously.
Two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson played through the 2016-17 playoffs with a fractured ankle and has really never been the same since. Unless you have played upper-tier hockey, the workout regiment these players go through to stay limber is unimaginable.
One thing that the NHL can do is just start next season at a later date, let’s say have players report in late October, rather than the first few weeks of September. That should do the trick. That would bring hockey into July, which seems like not a big deal, just a month later than usual.
But by starting next year’s season at a later date, the league now needs to find a way to get back on the usual schedule. And the only thing I can think of is shortening next year’s season. While that is unappealing to everyone involved, I am not talking about a 48 game season like we saw back in the 2012-13 season.
Perhaps the league should make it 68 games. Start the season a month later, the first week of November, and have the season come to a close around the same time as last year. This gets the league back on its usual schedule, being able to start the 2021-22 season on time, meaning everything would be back to normal.
By starting the season later, and keeping it 82 games, the league will never be able to get back to normalcy. Everything is easier said than done. And there are probably stipulations with the NHL Players Association that deems how much “vacation time” the players get, as well as other things that are above my level of expertise.
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But everyone has the common goal of playing hockey. And working with the NHL PA, commissioner Gary Bettman and staff need to do what is right for the players as well as the fans. The realistic thing to do is just cancel this season.