NHL Playoffs: Lightning Try Again to Clinch Eastern Conference Final
More details on the plan to resume the schedule, plus the latest on Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the NHL and NHL Players Association have established a Return to Play Committee engaged in discussions to draft plans to reopen the season when it’s safe to do so. The league has to determine whether it can safely resume amid a pandemic and whether the players will agree to it.
“Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, and senior VPs Colin Campbell and Steve Hatze Petros represent the NHL, while the NHLPA is represented by Don Fehr, Mathieu Schneider, general counsel Don Zavelo, divisional rep Steve Webb, and active players John Tavares, Connor McDavid, James van Riemsdyk, and Ron Hainsey. Medical advisers from both the league and union are added to the calls when appropriate.”
Decisions to resume will ultimately be made by local governments and public health agencies. League deputy commissioner Bill Daly was asked to clarify comments to TSN on Friday in which he suggested one or more positive COVID-19 tests among the participants wouldn’t necessarily shut the whole thing down. Daly said he wouldn’t get into hypotheticals. “I’m fully comfortable with our level of knowledge and the experts we have retained to make the right decisions,” he said.
Brooks indicates Toronto and Columbus are among the leading candidates to be part of the four regional division hosts. A Canadian host city would mean lower costs to stage part of the schedule because of the lower Canadian dollar.
All teams would hold training camps of up to three weeks at their assigned locations. Depending on how far a team advances in the playoffs, those players could face being isolated from their families for up to four months.
Player health will be an issue, especially for those with medical conditions like Montreal’s Max Domi, the New York Rangers’ Kaapo Kaako, and Minnesota’s Luke Kunin, who are Type 1 diabetics and more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. Testing, travel restrictions, and family matters will be other issues facing the committee.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This report provides an interesting glimpse into the myriad of challenges facing the league and the PA in their attempt to complete the season and crown a Stanley Cup champion. Both sides appear busy behind the scenes trying to address those issues. It appears they want the players to return to their clubs by May 15, open training camps in those four host cities by June 1, and resume play by late-June.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins president Cam Neely said the league and the players are on board to do whatever possible to complete the season. “If that means playing into the summer then we’re all willing to do that. The feeling is there’s an opportunity to be able to push next season back and still get an 82-game schedule in next year. Everything is on the table to try and get the (2019-20) season completed.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Every option is being considered, but the preference certainly seems to be a full completion of the current schedule and staging a full playoff format.
That could mean awarding the Stanley Cup by early September, holding a brief offseason period from mid-September into mid-October to stage the draft, open the free-agent period, and allow for salary-arbitration hearings. That could be followed by a two-three week training camp, with the 2020-21 season starting up in mid-November and the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs ending in late June or early July.
THE SCORE: Should the NHL schedule resume in empty arenas, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper feels the players will quickly adjust to the absence of fans. He believes the players won’t notice a thing once the competitive juices and physical play begins.
SPORTSNET: Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby sent a message of love and support to his fellow Nova Scotians as the province grieves the senseless deaths of 22 people during a shooting rampage by a lone gunman last weekend. “I’m in Pittsburgh, but being from Nova Scotia, my heart and mind is home with all of you,” said the Cole Harbour native.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Like everyone, I was shocked and horrified by what happened last weekend. I was raised in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. Many of my family still live there. I regularly drive through the area where many of those murders took place on route to visit my folks. My heart goes out to the victims’ families and friends.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has resumed skating as he rehabs from his March 2 core muscle surgery. He’s expected to be fully recovered when the season resumes.