At the tail end of an historic day for the NHL, Brad Treliving best summed up the relief capping off four months of unknowns.
“I like Zoom, and Zoom has been good in terms of keeping everyone in touch, but… Uncle,” said the Calgary Flames GM, whose weekly online fellowship gatherings with local media types were the envy of scribes league-wide.
“Let’s get going. Monday can’t come fast enough.”
Press releases late Friday confirmed the NHLPA and NHL have officially agreed to a return-to-play plan as well as a four-year CBA extension that makes the league the envy of its sporting brethren.
With just three days of lead time before 24 teams will open for almost two weeks of training camps, the league has set the stage for what might end up being the most intriguing playoff format in the game’s modern history.
For the Calgary Flames, that means an Aug. 1 start for a best-of-five “qualifying round” showdown with the Winnipeg Jets that could be over in as little as four days.
That’s the type of urgency required moving forward.
“Whether you have three games in four nights, a best-of-five goes quick no matter how you play it,” said Treliving, whose club is slated to play the 8 p.m. game in Edmonton Aug. 1, 3 and 4 against a Jets team they lost to 2-1 in overtime outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
“It’s going to be important how you start. Having a good camp and being prepared is crucial.”
Realizing it will all come down to balancing hard work in camp while ensuring you don’t fatigue anyone, Treliving said the coaching plan was developed back in April in anticipation of Monday’s restart.
“We don’t have a lot of time, but it’s still three weeks away, so we’re not panicking,” said Treliving, admittedly unsure who or when his team will play its one exhibition game in Edmonton after moving there July 26.
“You want to be careful to make sure you get the work in but not burn everybody out in seven days. The group has been looking after themselves and skating before they got there. They’ve been going at it pretty good, from what I understand.”
All told, 31 players from each team will be allowed to head into the league-devised bubble in Edmonton late this month for one exhibition game before the real bullets start flying against a team with just as many offensive threats as the Flames. They’ll be joined by 21 people who will make up the support staff who will also be tested daily as part of the league’s thorough approach to a return-to-play setup many thought wouldn’t come to fruition.
Between now and August the Flames may have to deal with everything from positive tests to players who have the right to opt out before Monday, citing safety concerns.
To date, Treliving says he hasn’t heard from any players who may choose to watch from the sidelines.
“I have not, but now that it’s done we’ll see,” said Treliving, who added that all his players are in town, “present and accounted for.”
“Nobody tipped their hand.”
Games four and five, if necessary, are slated for Aug. 6 and 8, meaning either the eighth-ranked Flames or ninth-ranked Jets will be eliminated and in line for a 12.5 per cent chance at top-ranked junior star Alexis Lafreniere in the draft lottery soon thereafter.
“That’s a really good team that we’re playing – a team that went through some changes this year but was in the West final two years ago,” said Treliving. “There are no holes over there. They have a goalie (Connor Hellebuyck) who may win the Vezina Trophy in net, a defence with a lot of talent on it and, well, pick your poison up front. It’s a tall, tall task.”
A monumental task for a Flames team that has a history of playoff shortcomings, as well as a penchant for slow starts.
On the weekend the team will announce its training camp schedule to be held at the Saddledome, where a small number of mask-wearing journalists will be high up in the stands, observing the lads for the first time since the March 12 pause.
No face-to-face interviews will be allowed at any time through camp or the playoffs. A small number of scribes will be allowed to watch playoff games from the press box in Edmonton, but will not be allowed to breach the NHL’s bubble by watching practices once the league convenes in Edmonton.
With players available by phone or Zoom post-practice starting Monday, plenty of storylines will unfold.
The Flames are still seeking a league ruling on whether recent hotshot collegiate signing Connor Mackey will be able to continue skating with the club, even though his contract doesn’t kick in until next season.
But on Friday the story was simple – the league celebrated an historic day by officially overcoming two massive hurdles.
“It’s a great day that everything has been finalized,” said Treliving. “To me, the league and the Players’ Association deserve a tremendous amount of credit.
“We’re all living in this environment, and know how difficult it is, and to get a return-to-play plan and to get a CBA done during a pandemic, it’s unbelievable. The ability to find common ground… I just think Gary (Bettman) and Bill (Daly) and league leadership and the PA deserve so much credit. You’re talking about two monumental tasks, and they did it at a time when things change from Monday to Tuesday. It’s a Herculean effort.”