NHL owners, players have will to return to play, but is there a way? — Boston Herald

The NHL’s “Return to Play” committee continues to meet by phone and Zoom and whatever means necessary to attempt to tackle forever-in-flux issues, a task not unlike trying to catch the wind.

NHL owners, players have will to return to play, but is there a way? — Boston Herald

Nobody questions the will of both the players and owners to award a Stanley Cup at some point this summer, but is there a way?

That’s a far tougher puzzle to solve. Still, the NHL’s “Return to Play” committee continues to meet by phone and Zoom and whatever means necessary to attempt to tackle forever-in-flux issues, a task not unlike trying to catch the wind.

The discussions start with basic questions: Can we resume play? How? When? Where? And they discuss the problems with each.

Can they resume play? Not yet.

How? By skipping the remaining regular-season games and having 24 teams in a playoff tournament, with the bottom teams among them playing their way into the field, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

When? Too early to say, but getting later by the day.

Where? I’ve been told that the most recent flavor of the day has centered on having the games played at anywhere from two to four host cities.

The first problem: How to transport players from all over the globe to the host cities. What travel restrictions must be overcome? At the moment, anyone entering Canada from another country, including the United States, must quarantine for 14 days. So if training camp is 10 days, don’t you actually need to block off 24 days before playing a game? The quarantine rule could be lifted soon, but what does “soon” mean, and does it mean permanently lifted?

And then there is the issue of testing the players, referees, stadium-operations staff, club officials, etc., for the coronavirus. Which tests will they use? Do we even know if there are any reliable tests on the market? Anecdotal evidence makes me ask that question: Facebook friend and former USA Today baseball writer Mel Antonen, battling COVID-19 for weeks, posted Sunday, two days before he was taken to the emergency room: “Getting negative and positive tests, but the way I feel, the negatives feel more accurate. I’m going to be fine, but there are glitches.”about:blank

New disease, new tests, new possible treatments, a lot of learning as we go. What applies today might not tomorrow.

In the early stages of the virus invading the United States, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, said during a video interview with USA Today: “You don’t need to be walking around with a mask right now. Masks, quite frankly, are more important for people who are infected to prevent them from infecting someone else.”

That thinking has changed, and to go out in public without one now in some places is to put oneself at risk of getting fined, not to mention being on the receiving end of dirty looks. I went for a walk Friday and was carrying a mask, ready to put it on if I came within 10 feet of another walker. A masked man from across the street spotted me, stopped dead in his tracks, made an exaggerated sign of the cross and said a prayer for me. Since his lips were covered with a mask, I couldn’t read them, so I’ll have to guess: “Dear Lord, please give this ignorant slug the courage to table all common sense and take his every marching order from the authorities. If there is one thing we don’t need at this time, it’s people thinking for themselves.”

Hockey players won’t be required to wear masks on the ice, but will they have to wear them when walking from their hotel to the arena? What might someone who recognizes Brad Marchand have to say to him that he could use as fuel for that day’s game? If the hotel is too far, surely gathering in the close quarters of a team bus wouldn’t be allowed, right? Will each player rent his own car and get to and from his workplace that way? And after the game is played in an empty arena, where several teams per day will play, is showering out of the question? Will they have to walk or drive back to the hotel in uniform to shower there?

Who will feed them? Someone will have to wash their clothes, not just their uniforms, but the clothes they wear when not at the arena.

If Major League Baseball is up and running at the same time, how will regional TV scheduling conflicts be addressed?

That shouldn’t be a problem for national TV if the Stanley Cup playoffs are taking place from July 24 through Aug. 9. NBC was supposed to be televising the Olympic Games then, so there should be plenty of programming slots available. Despite the strange vibe that comes with no fans in the stands, ratings likely would be great. Even sports fans new to hockey might tune in and get hooked.

Unlike in baseball, where the owners and players would have to renegotiate contracts in a way that motivates both sides to want to return, that’s not a problem with hockey. The players and owners work under a salary cap with what’s known as a “true-up of revenues.”

So they’re joined at the hip.

Say a player has a $1 million salary. If the revenues fall short of anticipated, after all the salaries are combined together, the player might end up only getting $850,000. Or, if revenues end up being more than anticipated against the dollar level that’s in a player’s contract, he would get a check for more money than his salary. In the early years of the salary cap the latter scenario tended to happen, but for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the weakening of the Canadian dollar, that hasn’t been the case in recent years.

So it’s good that the two sides don’t have to argue over how the money will be divided. Normally, that would be considered a big hurdle, but these are not normal circumstances.

That brings us right back to where we started. There’s a shared, strong will to return to play NHL games, all right, but is there a way?

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