Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan is underway and the league announced last week that Phase 3, formal training camps, will open July 10.
Despite the growing optimism among hockey fans, former NHL defenceman and current hockey analyst Kevin Bieksa is skeptical because a number of details remain up in the air.
“A lot of friends that I have and a lot of people that I’ve talked to that are going to be playing, they still don’t have their equipment, they still haven’t skated, they’re still very skeptical,” Bieksa told Sportsnet 650 on Monday. “They haven’t been told anything by their team, so I’m skeptical. I obviously want hockey back. I’d love to cover some games and watch it on TV and get everything back to normal but I wouldn’t jump the gun if I were the fans. I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much yet.”
The NHL suspended its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12.
In recent weeks, however, the NHL unveiled a 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs format that will see the top four teams in each conference based on 2019-20 points percentage earn a spot in the first round with the remaining eight teams in the East and West competing in best-of-five play-in series.
A potential date for Phase 4 of the league’s return-to-play plan (meaning when the games actually resume) has not been determined.
“There’s so much to figure out,” Bieksa said. “Not only with the safety measures and protocol and everything but I don’t even know if it’s been discussed with the (NHLPA) and the league how they’re going to divide HRR (hockey-related revenue). Like, usually, historically the players play for free in the playoffs and the bonuses that they get are paid for by themselves. Well there’s no money, so you’re telling me players are going to come back, leave their families, sacrifice now and get no money for it? Like, how’s that going to work? So, that’s a pretty big negotiation right there that hasn’t even been discussed yet.”
Bieksa’s comments echoed some of what Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane had to say on a video conference call this past Thursday.
Kane said that while he and his colleagues are excited to get back to playing there are still a number of important elements the players have yet to officially sign off on.
“I think we have to be pretty cautious about that,” Kane said. “I know the NHL has put out updates and what not, but I think as players, nothing has been agreed to yet. There’s a long way to go before we reach a certain agreement where we would want to come back and play and feel safe enough and feel like it’s the right deal for us to come back. Obviously, we’re in the process of doing that and it’s an ongoing process, but I think we have to be cautious about talking about certain dates and coming back when nothing is settled as of yet. It’s still ongoing and hopefully it gets figured out.”
NHL teams were permitted to re-open training facilities to players for small-group on-ice sessions and workouts beginning June 8 as part of Phase 2, which included protocols for travelling to club cities, testing, as well as the wearing of personal protective equipment when entering and leaving team facilities.
“There’s more than just being cautious and safe,” Kane explained. “There’s a lot of different things with the negotiations that I think we don’t need to dive into, but I just know that the players want a fair deal. That’s the biggest thing. There’s a bunch of different things, whether it’s playing at the time we’re playing, when next year’s going to start, what our offseasons will look like down the road, a bunch of other things. But I just think the NHL is putting out these dates and I think, as players, we’re taking a step back and saying, ‘Why are these dates being put out when we haven’t really agreed to anything yet?’ … People are starving for sports. We would love to be able to give that to them, but, like I said, we want it to be fair.”
Kane’s Blackhawks had the second-lowest point total of any team that’ll have a shot at hoisting the Cup this year. As the 12th seed in the Western Conference, they would play the No. 5 seed Edmonton Oilers in a play-in series.
If and when the NHL resumes play, games are expected to take place in two different hub city locations, one of which will be Las Vegas.