Hockey games without fans not worth the trouble

Oskar Lindblom.

      I had to laugh the other day when I read about a Chinese baseball team, the Rakuten Monkeys, installing 500 robot/mannequin pseudo-fans to fill their seats for a game at their home field in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan.

      According to stories in various national media outlets, the 500 or so lifeless husks are decorated with team jerseys and hats, Rakuten rally posters and face masks, just in case someone inadvertently programs human mortality.

      Not that anything about the deadly coronavirus pandemic is humorous but what the heck is going on here?

      This is how far we’ve sunk? Artificial so-called people? It’s more obnoxious than those flash-signs on scoreboards imploring fans to “Make Some Noise!’’

      All this is a roundabout way of saying the National Hockey League is thinking about returning at some point, using neutral-site venues with the possibility of no fans in attendance.

      Isn’t that pretty much the same as the Chinese thing?

      Imagine the Flyers playing the Penguins in North Dakota in an empty building – quiet enough that you can hear Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault calling out line changes.

      Perhaps the alarming part, at least from this vantage point, is that many of the NHL players seem to be willing to go along with the scheme.

      In fact, that sentiment has been made public for awhile. Recently, during a media conference call, Flyers center Kevin Hayes said he would be down with playing games without fans, providing the conditions were safe.

      The cynical side of the debate is that the players want to get paid for those remaining dozen or so regular-season games and are ready to spend a few months in isolation (along with frequent testing) just to eventually crown a Stanley Cup champion.

      It should be noted this is the same union which was willing to scrap the entire 2004-05 season over a salary cap war which it eventually lost anyway.

      Scott Laughton, a highly respected veteran forward on the Flyers, was asked if there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.

      Is it mostly about the money or do players want to get back to action for a love of the game and the spirit of competition? After all, they don’t get paid to compete in the playoffs anyway, and getting a Cup resolved would seem to be the prime objective, right?

      “Guys want to win and compete,’’ Laughton said. “I think we want to get back to that, first and foremost, and kind of let the (NHL) Players’ Association and the league deal with the other things.

      “I know as players, you want to play to win and to come back and have a chance at winning.’’

      In the Flyers’ case, they probably don’t want to miss out on a golden opportunity to find some success in the postseason for the first time since 2012.

       “Well, you play all year, you battle all year,’’ Laughton said. “Guys play 3-on-3s, you go on the road, you have some tough road trips and our travel schedule was pretty demanding all year.

      “You do this all year. You fight for a good spot. For that to come up short, I think the ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup. To have that cut short would definitely be disappointing. I think that’s the main thing.’’

      If the Flyers were to play in a vacant Wells Fargo Center, it would nullify a huge home-ice advantage.

      Going into the stoppage, the Flyers led the NHL in home wins with 25.

      “Obviously our home record was pretty elite this year and we did a really good job,’’ Laughton said. “(Carter} Hart was really good at home. Just a lot of things came together for us at home.

      “So yeah, it would be disappointing not to play in front of your fans at the end of the day. I think we just want to get back to playing. Everyone’s safety is first but we definitely want to come back and have a shot at it.’’

      Hart seemed to be particularly jacked up by the WFC home crowd.

      The 21-year-old netminder was 20-3-2 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .943 save percentage at home and 4-10-1 with a 3.81 GAA and .857 SP on the road.

      Hard to tell what he would be like at a neutral-site or empty-building game but he would be hard-pressed to match those 20-3-2 numbers.

      “Philly’s always had a pretty great fan base in all their sports,’’ Hart pointed out. “For us this year down the stretch, they were definitely really coming out and showing their support. It definitely was an electric building to play in down the stretch. I think it’s tough for opponents to come into the Wells Fargo Center when the place is going off like that.’’

      Tough, indeed. Especially if there are human beings in the stands and not robots.

      By the way, do these androids drink beer and take bathroom breaks?

      Just wondering.


      Flyers’ injury update: Sam Moran, ACL reconstruction – Probable for start of 2020-21 season; Philippe Myers, knee fracture – Ready to play; Nolan Patrick, migraine disorder – Not cleared for contact; Nate Thompson, knee sprain – Ready to play; James van Riemsdyk, fractured right index finger – 1-2 weeks.

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About Wayne Fish 2452 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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