Crosby, Ovechkin hoping NHL jumps into playoffs if season resumes

Sidney Crosby, Marc Staal, Jordan Staal and Claude Giroux discuss how they would like the NHL season to finish out, once the league gets the okay to resume.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been on opposite sides of a fierce rivalry throughout their careers.

But the generational superstars are on the same page when it comes to how they’d prefer to see the NHL finish the season, if possible, on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I mean you try to get in as many games as you can I think, but I wouldn’t mind starting right at the playoffs," Crosby said Thursday.

"For me the more games we play it’s going to be better for our fans and it’s going to be better for the teams who are fighting for the playoffs, but I’d rather start the playoffs right away," said Ovechkin. "Sorry guys."

The NHL had 189 regular-season games remaining on the schedule when it hit pause on March 12 — including 13 apiece for Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals.

With players currently observing a period of self-quarantine across two continents and the coronavirus still spreading rapidly, it remains to be seen whether any of those games or the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be played at all.

There has already been a healthy amount of discussion behind closed doors between the league and NHL Players’ Association about what the return-to-play scenarios might look like depending on when it’s safe to resume.

The longer it takes, the less likely we are to see any regular-season games salvaged. The league’s main focus is on finding a way to award the Stanley Cup without disrupting its ability to hold a full 82-game schedule next season.

With their teams comfortably in playoff position when the 2019-20 campaign was abruptly paused, it’s little wonder why Crosby and Ovechkin are in favour of jumping straight to the post-season. That would be a difficult outcome for teams like the New York Islanders and New York Rangers — one and two points back of wild-card position in the Eastern Conference — unless the playoff field was expanded to give them a much-deserved lifeline.

"You want to get in as many games as possible to get your true tournament," said Rangers defenceman Marc Staal, among those who spoke on Thursday’s NHL-NHLPA conference call.

"Whether that’s bumping up a few more teams in, or [holding] a play-in [round], or one of the things in the [Rangers team] group chat that gets speculated on … I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it."

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The league is in a race against time.

Players won’t be cleared to resume skating and working out in small groups until the spread of COVID-19 shows signs of flatlining. There will also need to be some form of training camp held before games can be played again.

The NHL appears willing to continue its season right through the summer after asking teams to submit available building dates in July and August, but there’s some debate among players about the merits of that idea.

"You’ve got to think about the health and safety of our star players," said Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. "When you’re playing that many games a year, and now we’re going to try to push it into that late in the summer and then possibly right into another season a few months later and then post-season again for some guys, that’s a lot of games in one year that we’re not used to.

"I’m not saying that guys won’t grind out a way to do it because us hockey players will find a way, but you’ve got to think about the longevity of guys’ careers and their health as well."

If the NHL is able to resume, it’s going to be impossible to make everyone happy.

There has been some discussion about potentially holding a 24-team playoff tournament with a play-in round to at least include those battling for spots when the season was halted, but there’s no guarantee time will allow for that to go forward.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Claude Giroux’s Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in hockey when the season was paused — riding a 9-1-0 streak to move within a point of Washington for the Metropolitan Division lead.

He wouldn’t mind continuing on with the regular season.

"It’d be good to I think get a few games before playoffs, especially for teams that are fighting for a spot in," said Giroux. "You want to give everybody a fair chance, I’d say. Whatever is the fairest I think everybody would kind of accept that."

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