NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will make a formal announcement regarding the NHL Return To Play plan at 4:30 PM ET today. Before you tune in for that let’s get you up-to-date on where a potential NHL Return stands.
There was plenty of NHL Return news as Americans honored their fallen veterans and celebrated (some social distancing, some not) Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer in the United States. Thanks to the Coronavirus, it will be a strange summer in both the USA and Canada but this past Friday, the NHL and NHLPA took one step closer to providing hockey and sports fans a welcome distraction when the NHLPA voted 29-2 in favor of the NHL Return To Play Committee’s 24-team Playoff format that will be used if they can pull off a return to the ice from the pause they took back on March 12 when the Coronavirus outbreak started to explode in North America and around the world.
Here’s a look at all the latest NHL news that broke over the long weekend in the States in your latest Boston Hockey Now NHL Return Links:
While most Americans were winding down and firing up the grill, BHN and our sister site Pittsburgh Hockey Now worked the phones feverishly Friday and broke the news early Friday night that the NHLPA had indeed approved the 24-team playoff proposal.
Onto Phase 2
On Sunday, the NHL released a 22-page comprehensive memo that outlined the protocol for Phase 2 of the NHL Return and while it was sobering, it was also another step forward.
Still Plenty Of Work To Be Done For NHL Return
While we now have an approved game plan for how the return will go on the ice if they can pull it off, there’s still plenty of logistics to be agreed on and one big stumbling block could still be players being kept away from their loved ones and the public for potentially two months.
“We voted strictly on the format,” Minnesota Wild goalie Devyn Dubnyk told The Athletic. “In other words, ‘If we are to come back, this is how it’s going to be played.’ But we have not even touched on logistics or cities or travel or testing or how the economics will work or what this quarantine bubble [the players are] supposed to live in will be like or any of that stuff yet.
“Nothing else has been voted on … yet.”
Canes And Lightning Voted No On NHL Return Plan
The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes were the two NHL teams that voted no on the 24-team playoff proposal and both cited the idea of teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadiens, who hardly any chance of making the playoffs now being invited in a play-in round. Since they had one of the top four winning percentages when the league paused, the Lightning would not have to take part in a play-in series but as team PA Rep Alex Kilhorn said, the team that advanced out of the play-in could have an advantage.
“I brought the format to my team,” Killorn told Joe Smith of The Athletic Saturday. “They didn’t feel it was fair that certain teams that probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs would have a chance to make the playoffs in a best-of-five series. My team also felt it was unfair that the teams with a bye would not be as well prepared for a playoff series as the teams that had already basically played a playoff series to get into the playoffs.
This was not my opinion alone. As the PA rep I have a duty to represent the voice of my entire team. I don’t want people to think that we don’t want to play. Everyone on our team wants to play. In saying that, we are fine with the vote the PA took and we are ready with it going forward.”
Under the proposed format, the Hurricanes would play the New York Rangers in a play-in series. The Rangers were not in a playoff seed when the league paused and Canes PA rep Jordan Martinook explained why he and his teammates voted no.
“It just kind of limits our odds and makes you play another playoff series, basically,” Martinook told reporters. “It wasn’t just for our team’s situation. … You look at teams that had a 10 percent chance to make it, and now they’re pretty much on a 50-50 playing field. I’m not taking anything away from the top four teams … but we felt like we could have kept climbing the ladder,” Martinook said. “It doesn’t really benefit the teams in 5, 6, 7 or 8, it kind of hinders those teams. Then, it gives a lot to the 9, 10, 11, and 12.”
Both players did acknowledge that this is an unprecedented situation and that they want to play still.
Former Bruin Recchi Wants The NHL Return Cup Asterisk
In a Zoom call with Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe, Joe Haggerty of NBCSports Boston and yours truly, former Bruin and current Pittsburgh Penguins Assistant Coach Mark Recchi said if people want to put an asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions, he will wear it as a badge of honor.
“We’ll view it as unique. You can view it two ways: You can put an asterisk beside it and say it shouldn’t have been done, or you can think, you know what, you are Stanley Cup champions,” Recchi told us. “When it comes down to it, and you’re playing for that Stanley Cup, it’s going to be the same intensity. I think it would be pretty fun to have that asterisk and say, ‘You know what, this is what happened. You can tell your kids, it was a pandemic, and this what we had to do, and we found a way to be the best team in the world.”