Still Work To Do For Approval On NHL's 24-Team Playoff Format
The NHL as early as today is "expected to announce exactly how the 24-team return to play format will work" after the NHLPA exec board voted to approve it, but Wild G and union player rep Devan Dubnyk "made clear that another vote will 'absolutely' be necessary by the players," according to Michael Russo of THE ATHLETIC. Dubnyk said, "It's really important to start having these conversations with as many players as we can about, 'Guys, what scenarios are we OK with?'" He added, "It's going to be some sort of hub city scenario, so we’ve got to talk about that. How long are guys OK with being away for?" An NHLPA spokesperson confirmed that it will be "up to the executive board to determine if there’s another vote, and there’s a good chance of that happening." Several NHL players "concurred with Dubnyk’s assessment that another vote is a must" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/25).
PROBLEMS & OPPOSITION: In St. Louis, Tom Timmermann wrote the 24-team format also is a "calendar without numbers." There is "still no clear idea of when games would resume and with the players wanting at least a three-week training camp, it is still at best more than a month away" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/25). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander reports the Hurricanes were "one of two NHL teams to vote against" the 24-team return-to-play format. Hurricanes C and NHLPA player rep Jordan Martinook yesterday said that the Canes "believed an extra play-in round, as proposed, would not only lengthen the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs but also the odds against them winning the Cup." Martinook: "It wasn’t like we didn’t want to play or anything. It was just this particular option maybe didn’t benefit us. It’s just kind of the stance we took" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/26).
SMALL STEPS TOWARD A RETURN: ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan reported the NHL is "ready to move to Phase 2 of its plan to return to play, and will soon allow players to train in small groups at team facilities.” The NHL "didn't put an exact date on when Phase 2 will go into effect, though it said it was targeting early June." The new protocols would "allow for a maximum of six players to train at the team facilities at once." On-ice sessions are "for players only, with no coaches or other team personnel allowed on the ice." Players must "wear face coverings at all times, except when they are exercising or on the ice." The NHL "stressed that participation in Phase 2 is 'strictly voluntary' and teams should not require players to return to their playing city yet." Phase 2 is a "crucial step for the NHL as it aims to complete the 2019-20 season and award a Stanley Cup this summer" (ESPN.com, 5/25). THE ATHLETIC's Scott Burnside lays out the "key points" to Phase 2 (5/25).
DAUNTING ROAD AHEAD: In L.A., Helene Elliott writes the NHL and NHLPA's memo regarding Phase 2 acts as a "careful and sobering plan for the next phase of a return to play" (L.A. TIMES, 5/26). In Boston, Steve Conroy writes yesterday's memo "was a tad sobering, especially with the warning in the introduction that the extensive protocol 'cannot mitigate all risk. A range of clinical scenarios exist, from very mild to fatal outcome'" (BOSTON HERALD, 5/26). The TIMES' Elliott notes anyone who "plans to visit a club training facility must undergo testing 48 hours in advance and receive a negative test result." Clubs were "told to contact local health authorities to determine whether asymptomatic players and personnel are eligible for such tests." If testing "isn’t available, players and personnel would have to self-quarantine for 14 days before they could use training facilities, unless they can certify they had already served a 14-day quarantine" (L.A. TIMES, 5/26).
NO, CANADA? In N.Y., Larry Brooks reported for the NHL's hub plan, the league "will not select a Canadian city unless the Canadian government grants the NHL an exception to its 14-day quarantine requirement for folks crossing the border." It would "essentially be impossible to have teams train in their U.S. home cities for up to five weeks (two weeks of informal skates followed by a three-week training camp) then go into quarantine for two weeks prior to the tournament" (N.Y. POST, 5/24).
WRITERS' REAX: In Pittsburgh, Tim Benz is not a fan of the 24-team format, writing under the header, "Sorry, Penguins Fans. A 2020 NHL Relaunch Was Never Going To Be Perfect" (TRIBLIVE.com, 5/26). The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly asked, "Will it work? Well, define 'work'. It will get done because there are too many financial incentives (or disincentives, depending how you look at it) for it not to." Kelly: "What’s not being considered in this rush to restart is how pandemic hockey affects the NHL next season and beyond" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/23). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, “You are giving the bottom feeders a greater chance once they play the best teams in your league. That's just dumb to me. I don't even like the 24-team thing” (“PTI,” ESPN, 5/25).