Dear Hockey Fan,
Here’s hoping this finds you well and that you enjoy continued good health.
Let’s begin this missive by stating right up front we understand that in the department store of life, sports clearly resides in the toys section.
Obviously, much more important stuff is happening right now than what takes place at a rink, a court or a ballfield.
That said, athletic competition is – going all the way back to ancient Greece and the Olympics – an important part of our psyche.
Which is why we take a few-minute timeout from the serious stuff of the coronavirus to discuss ice hockey, particularly the Flyers variety, and what lies ahead.
In short, we know that the NHL will return sometime, hopefully sooner than later.
To be perfectly open, no hockey game should be played until the coast is clear; namely, health experts deem it is safe to resume action.
When that day arrives, here are some thoughts to consider:
>1. **Will there be a conclusion to the regular season followed by some form of playoffs?**
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated he wants to see a Stanley Cup contested and awarded. The league has already explored building availability around North American cities through the end of July, raising the possibility of summer hockey. If there isn’t time to complete the dozen or so regular-season games, how about a “play-in’’ format for bubble teams like the New York Islanders and New York Rangers?
>2. **How much time will players need to get ready to play again?**
This isn’t like training camp, where players have been off all summer. They already have 70 games under their belts. If they stay in shape (no organized workouts have been announced yet or if they’re even going to happen), figure two or three days of hard practices and then it’s a go.
>3. **If the playoffs are shortened to, say, a best-of-five format for the first couple rounds, will the eventual winner of the Stanley Cup feel self-conscious about a non-complete season, like the lockout-shortened ones of 1995 and 2013 (48-games)?**
Just ask the ‘95 New Jersey Devils and the ‘13 Chicago Blackhawks if they experienced any shame while they were grinning and lugging that big trophy over their heads after their victories.
>4. **Provided the regular-season games are scratched, do the players still get paid?**
That’s still up in the air. Salaries depend on hockey-related revenue, so the guess is the owners and players will split the difference and players will get a “half’’ check. It’s doubtful the owners or the players want to get into a bargaining table debate in public over whether the NHL can afford to pay if revenue is lost. Didn’t they learn anything from the lost season of 2004-05? Oh, that’s right: They had another lockout in 2012-13.
>5. **What sort of impact will all this have on the immediate future of the game?**
The first thing that comes to mind is next year’s salary cap. The current one is $81.5 million and that is projected to go up a few million next season. Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if the number stays frozen at $81.5 or maybe even drops, depending on how much revenue is lost this season.
Meanwhile, fans around here wonder what will happen to a Flyers season which seemed to be zooming in the right direction.
The campaign was halted with Philadelphia being the hottest team in the NHL, going 9-1 over its last 10 games and moving within one point of the Metropolitan Division lead.
Will this long break slow that momentum?
One thing the break does, as with most NHL teams, is allow injured players to heal.
If the NHL comes back in late April/early May, three injured players should be fully healthy by then: James van Riemsdyk (broken finger on right hand), Philippe Myers (fractured patella in right leg) and Nate Thompson (sprained knee).
A month or more of inactivity could change the landscape a bit. But the Flyers were playing with such confidence, both at home and on the road, that a noteworthy drop-off seems unlikely.
Their goal, of course, is to make the playoffs and win at least one round, something that hasn’t been done in a franchise-record seven years.
Yet the ultimate concern right now is simply waiting for the day when ice hockey returns, period. Just seeing those guys racing around the ice again would be a welcome sight and great relief.
So for now, in the words of a famous Flyer broadcaster, good night and good hockey.
Your faithful hockey writer.