Pros and cons: Coyotes give input on ideas to resume NHL season this year
PHOENIX — Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper was sporting a mustache when he joined media members on a video conference call — something new he was trying out while most of the world stays home.
Besides his mustache, Kuemper has gotten creative in other ways during his downtime, like the idea of a college basketball-style tournament for the NHL if and when its season resumes. Like other sports, hockey will have to brainstorm the best way to get players back after the coronavirus halted the season with just a few regular season games to go.
“It’s going to be interesting. There’s a couple different ways to go about it,” Kuemper said. “I think some sort of playoff tournament format, almost bracketed like a March Madness. I don’t think you could do just one game like they do, but if you could do a three-, five-game series, I think that’d be really exciting and something different for fans that would raise a lot of excitement.”
Media pundits, players and executives have called for different methods of resuming the season. Here’s a look at a few of them:
JUMP STRAIGHT INTO THE PLAYOFFS
The Stanley Cup Playoffs would commence when possible, with its usual 16 teams getting in. The qualifying teams would probably be decided by winning percentage, since not all teams have played the same number of games. In this scenario, the Coyotes would not make the playoffs.
“That would be our fault. We didn’t put ourselves in a position,” Garland said. “Obviously no one was preparing to have the season end at game 70, but you have to be in a position for the playoffs.”
Head coach Rick Tocchet also seemed OK with the logic of going right into the playoffs, even if it meant the Coyotes miss the mark.
“It’s funny because one of the coaches, I’m not going to mention his name, he’s in the playoffs and he thinks that when the season starts, the playoffs should start, they’re in,” Tocchet said. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ I have no problem if we had to start and they said, ‘Hey, whoever’s in the playoffs is in the playoffs.’ Seventy games is a big sample size.
“The only thing I’d be bummed out about, guys, I’ll be honest with you, we have eight or nine home games to finish the season. We went through a terrible scheduled for about two months. And I thought maybe this part of the schedule would be in our favor. So that’s the only thing. It would suck if we didn’t have a chance to get back into it.”
START THE PLAYOFFS, BUT WITH 24 TEAMS
To mitigate the unfairness of teams not getting to finish their regular season schedule, one proposal entails starting the playoffs right away but expanding it to 24 teams. That would likely mean having the top 12 teams in each conference, with the top four teams in each conference getting a first-round bye. Arizona is currently 11th in the West.
“Obviously we all want to play,” Garland said. “And I hope for 12-team [per conference] playoffs and get right into that, but that’s [the league’s] decision and it’s kind of just waiting to see what’s going to happen.”
“I personally think that if there is something that goes on, I don’t even know how it would work logistically, but you have to try to find a way to do a tournament of some sort,” forward Derek Stepan said. “How do you do that? I’m not sure. I don’t know if guys can even have enough time to get themselves back on the ice and get themselves focused to play and get themselves mentally ready or even keep themselves safe from playoff style hockey.”
CANCEL THE SEASON ENTIRELY
The 2019-20 season would have no conclusion, and there would be no Stanley Cup awarded. The cons here are obvious, but the positive is that players would maximize their time to prepare for next season, and, virus permitting, they would get to start the next season on schedule.
RESUME THE REGULAR SEASON
According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, players had mulled the idea of resuming the season later this summer. It increasingly appears to be a challenge as the virus continues to keep people indoors, but the suggestion was to play regular season games in late July, start the playoffs in early August and award the Stanley Cup in September. That would push back the 2020-21 season start to November.
Coyotes players were asked whether that would interfere with offseason rest.
“I don’t think so. We’ve had the time off now,” Kuemper said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been off for quite some time now. I think this with whatever offseason we’d get would be enough to play. Obviously there’d be some challenges as far as practice time and stuff like that. But you could adjust pretty easily, I think.”
Garland said he thinks it would vary from player to player.
“It’s hard to say. Guys train differently in the summer,” he said, adding that he finished last year and was already back on the ice again in late April. “I know guys that don’t skate until August or July. So guys use their time off differently. I like to be someone who’s skating a lot and training and doing a lot of off-ice stuff with my stick. So a shortened summer would be a challenge but you’d have to find time to fit it in.
“But my job’s to play. So if I’m told to play, I’m playing, and if the next year’s shortened and I’m playing 82 games in five months, then so be it. Your job’s to play, you play when you’re told.”
Players and staff reached for this story gave the caveats that things had to be made safe for players and fans, that the situation is always evolving and changing and that ultimately there are more important things going on in the world.
There’s also the issue of ramping up to get back into game shape, as players have been without an ice surface to train on going on a full month.
“I’m not sure three, four or five days is enough after a two-or three-month layoff,” Tocchet said. “So I’ve heard two weeks, I’ve heard 10 days. I’ve heard those numbers kicked around. But for me, it’s the safety of the players.”
Those issues aside, if the league can work out a viable solution, players seem open to resuming the season in some form.