Straight Jackets: NHL playoff fever feels more like a mild cold
The NHL has a tentative plan in place to finish the 2019-20 season with an expanded, 24-team playoff format that would include the Blue Jackets matching up against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a preliminary play-in/first-round best-of-five series.
Training camps would open in July, with games beginning in August. Columbus is rumored to be on the short list of sites that would serve as hubs for games to be played, hosting teams for multiple series as the league looks for ways to minimize the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these matchups and ensure the health and safety of its players.
As excited as I want to be for the idea of the league's return, I'm having a hard time getting worked up over it, for a few reasons.
First is the ongoing protests around the country against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Calls for justice and an end to systemic racism, embodied in the death of black men at the hands of white police officers, obviously diminishes joy of anticipating a return to the ice.
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The Blue Jackets organization released a statement condemning racism and its social media accounts posted blackout photos on Tuesday, June 2.
Captain Nick Foligno took to Twitter, posting, "The oppression so many face is heartbreaking... I will never understand your pain however I will promise to educate myself and my children... ."
Defenseman Seth Jones posted a meme to his Twitter account quoting Tupac Shakur saying, "It's not black against white. When I say 'we,' it's the good vs. the evil."
Former Jackets and current Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair, on his Twitter account, posted, "WE all have a voice, use it. Help create an environment where WE can all be treated equally... you should not stay silent about social inequality."
Hockey players are not known for strong words on social and political topics, so these words could be viewed as hard-hitting.
The ongoing pandemic also dampens any excitement about the league's plan. Of course, there are numerous health and safety measures that will be put in place, including isolating players from their families and, as much as possible, from other team personnel; health checks; and no fans in arenas. But it's not clear exactly what would happen if a player tested positive for COVID-19, and it's not hard to imagine a scenario in which everything gets shut down again.
CBJ forward Cam Atkinson has gone on record saying he's concerned about his and other players' health, even with the strictest of measures in place. He didn't say he wouldn't play if the league does resume, but he said what I'm sure many players are feeling and what many fans are wondering.
(The good news, from a health perspective, is the number of Jackets players who were dealing with injuries in February and March, and who will now be ready to play in these summer games. Perhaps that's a lighter topic for a future Straight Jackets.)
Third is that, put simply, I'd chalked up the season. Right now, in the first week of June, we'd typically be in the middle of the Stanley Cup Finals. The notion of skipping four or five months and then continuing the same season feels incongruous.
Or maybe I just miss the games so much, I'm torn over the idea of having games without being able to attend them.