As much as the fans want to see the NHL come out of this “pause” due to the coronavirus pandemic, the players are even more eager. Instead, they sit at home like everyone else, biding their time and waiting for some good news.
“Cleaning my floors a lot, doing kindergarten work with my daughter,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said from his home in Connecticut on Thursday afternoon during a video conference call organized by the league. “Killing time, just waiting to see like everybody else.”
At this point, there really isn’t any new information about when the NHL might resume, or how it will look if that happens. The combine, awards, draft lottery and the draft itself all were postponed Wednesday, with hopes of finding dates in the future. The league had a conference call with general managers on Wednesday and told them to work with their buildings in hopes of finding dates into August.
There are some contingency ideas being batted around, one being that when the league starts back up, teams will go straight into the playoffs. Whether that means the playoffs look like normal and the teams currently in position will make it — or if it will be an expanded format — is all dependent on the timing.
Staal and his Rangers were two points out of a playoff spot — trying to chase down his brother, Jordan, whose Hurricanes were in the first wild-card spot and two points ahead (with two games in hand) — when the season came to an abrupt halt.
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“Screw the Rangers. Let’s start playoffs right away,” Jordan joked on the same video call, which also included fellow Metropolitan Division players Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux. “It’s hard, and you can speculate and try to decide what’s fair. But there’s always going to be someone that’s pissed off about it. Whatever we do decide, I hope it’s the best for the ’Canes.”
Joking aside, there are big questions about how the league will deal with such a drastic drop-off in revenue, which will also affect the players’ 50 percent split of hockey-related revenue. It is going to create a huge increase in escrow for the players, which has already been a sticking point in their current contracts. But there is little they can do about it when the league isn’t bringing in any new money.
“I think that’s something that’ll be talked about at a later date,” Crosby said. “I think right now, everyone’s health and just making sure we handle this the right way, that’s what’s most important.”
The two Staal brothers both have young families, but they did get some time recently to play each other in virtual darts. Jordan said that if he had to be quarantined with one of his three brothers — all four have played in the NHL — he would chose the second-eldest, Marc, because Marc “thinks he’s good at darts, and I can take money off him.”
Those kind of light-hearted jabs are just about all the players have to hang on to at this point. Giroux said his team had a group FaceTime the other day and it devolved into a cacophony of voices and no one could be heard.
The players are doing what they can to prepare for a possible restart of the season, which has proved difficult without access to team facilities. On another video call, Islanders captain Anders Lee said he just ordered a Peloton because going on jogs with his two dogs — “one was dragging me, and I was dragging the other” — wasn’t quite working.
No one has been able to skate — with ice rinks, public or private, closed for business. If the NHL does resume, the first step will be players coming together in small groups to start skating and working out, and then coming together as a full team whenever that is feasible. But with no clear timetable, the players agreed that the most difficult thing was mentally dealing with the uncertainty.
The same could be said for all those in and around the game, fans included.
“It’s a pretty crazy time,” Marc Staal said. “I think it’s great as a community and a country [that we] try to limit this thing and hopefully get back as soon as possible.”
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