As the weeks flip by and the rinks remain silent, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally vocalized Tuesday what the hockey world has been thinking: that completing hockey’s regular season may not be possible.
A jump directly into a playoff tournament for the 2020 Stanley Cup once health conditions permit would no doubt frustrate those franchises paused within striking distance of a post-season berth.
"I think it’s not really fair, because it’s still, I believe, 12 or 13 games [remaining]," Sergei Bobrovsky said Tuesday. "Lots of games, and we’re right in the mix. We have the opportunity to be in there, and if they just cut it off, I don’t think it’s fair.
"From a sports standpoint, the season is 82 games and then the playoffs start. You just can’t cut off where we are and move right into the playoffs."
Whether you order the clubs by standings or points percentage, none is closer to making the cut than Bobrovsky’s Florida Panthers.
Florida (35-26-8) is frozen just three points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9), holds one game in hand and an advantage of first tiebreaker. Moreover, seven of the Cats’ final 13 games were scheduled against non-playoff teams.
The Panthers are tied for 15th overall in points percentage (.565), a scant .014 behind Toronto.
Understandably, Bettman is exploring all options — scrapping the remainder of the regular season; abbreviating the post-season; playing in empty arenas at neutral, population-light sites — to crown a 2020 champion and salvage revenue without putting the 2020-21 campaign in doubt.
"From the economy standpoint, it’s a different situation," Bobrovsky conceded, "but from a sports standpoint, I don’t think it’s fair."
Bobrovsky’s stance aligns closely with that of Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson ("It’s fair to start where we left off here. It would be good for the playoffs too, to get those games going again. It would benefit all of us") and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid ("A fair season is a full season").
On the flip side, superstars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both said they’d be fine with skipping directly into playoff action after a mini-camp.
"We’re looking at all options. Nothing’s been ruled in. Nothing’s been ruled out," Bettman said Tuesday during an interview on NBCSN, the league’s U.S. broadcast partner.
"The best thing and the easiest thing would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do. We understand that may not be possible."
"We stay at home in self-isolation," Bobrovsky said. "We can’t go outside, so we go in our backyard. We have a pool, so we can spend some time in there. There’s not much to do."
After backstopping the Columbus Blue Jackets to three consecutive playoff berths and that franchise’s first-ever series victory, Bobrovsky secured a monstrous seven-year, $70-million contract from the Panthers in free agency last summer.
Responding quickly to the NHL’s pause, the 31-year-old donated $100,000 to aid BB&T Center part-time employees who’d been put out of work. Following his lead, Goalie Bob’s teammates pledged to match his donation.
In concert with friends and fellow Russians Artemi Panarin and Semyon Varlamov, who are doing the same in New York, Bobrovksy has now donated thousands of valuable N95 masks to hospitals in South Florida.
"It’s good to support those people with these high-quality masks," Bobrovsky said from quarantine.
"The workers at the arena are a big part of our events and a big part of our support. And there was the risk for them to lose their jobs and possibly not be able to feed their families. Right now, it’s a tough time for everybody in the whole world and for hockey as well. I think I just tried to do the right thing for those people."
Bobrovsky is working out twice daily at his home gym, streaming Russian films selected by his wife at night, and having all his food delivered.
The two-time Vezina winner has admittedly endured a shaky season, battling injuries (he’s feeling fine now) and posting an atypically low save percentage (.900). But he’s staying in shape as best he can and remains hopeful the NHL can squeeze in a lucky 13 more games.
"It wasn’t an easy season for me. New team, new coach, new surroundings — everything is new," he said. "As far as the team standpoint, we’re fighting for the playoffs. We’re right in the mix. It’s all in our hands. The most important thing is the team success. We have the possibility to get into the playoffs, and that’s the really important thing for me."