As the NHL reboot looms, our columnist documents all the nontraditional aspects of the most abnormal quasi-season ever
A couple of weeks ago in this space I wrote that the NHL season was scheduled to resume on July 30, which would mark the first time I'd have NHL hockey on my birthday.
Since then, the plan has changed slightly, with games now set to begin on Aug. 1. So I have nothing else to say about the resumption of the NHL season and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ participation in it.
I mean, yeah, hockey fans are of course excited to see the sport return, weird circumstances aside. It’s been four months since the league suspended play due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. I don’t need to tell you that is a long time that feels even longer. We would typically be into the offseason by now, drafting and free agent-ing and contract extension-ing.
Additionally, players who would have missed the end of the season and even the playoffs are now healthy. The Jackets are not the only team for whom this is a big help, but Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Alexandre Texier, Dean Kukan, Joonas Korpisalo and Ryan Murray would have missed some or all of whatever the remainder of the season and postseason held had it not been interrupted. At the very least they would have been trying to get back into playing shape after a long injury layoff in the midst of a playoff chase instead of doing so from the relative comfort of quarantine.Get Straight Jackets delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Jackets are said to be holding a roster spot open for Josh Anderson, who missed most of the season. There’s speculation he’s not interested in signing a new contract with the team, so maybe he will opt out of the resumed season. But, if healthy, Anderson is a significant boost to the lineup.
There’s weirdness in the schedule, too. In case you haven’t been paying attention, play is resuming with 24 teams. The top eight teams — four from each conference — will wait for the “next 16” to play a best-of-five series to determine the final 16 teams who will then follow (with minor seeding modifications) the more traditional NHL playoff format.
Of course, the CBJ matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs is one of those series, whether you want to call it playoffs or play-in. Lots to break down there in the next Straight Jackets.
There’s also the weirdness of the draft, the lottery for which has already been held. In a twist, the No. 1 pick was drawn for a to-be-determined loser of one of the play-in series. Meaning, if the Jackets lose, there’s a chance they could get the top pick in the draft when it happens.
Compounding all the weirdness is the reason for the weirdness in the first place. In all, the league reported that 35 players tested positive either prior to or upon arriving at training camp, which officially began over the weekend. Additionally, seven players (thus far) have told their teams they are opting out of the resumed season for personal and family health reasons.
After two weeks of training camp in the home cities, teams will all move to either Edmonton or Toronto (yes, the Jackets will be playing on their opponents’ home ice, which is so Jackets in all this weirdness) where they will remain in a “bubble,” quarantined from family and all other outside contact until their postseason is complete. This presumes, of course, that the virus doesn't completely disrupt this plan.
"While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
So yeah, like I said — weirdness.