Straight Jackets: Rebooted NHL season brings hopes, concerns

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Zach Werenski

The long-delayed next installment in your favorite book series.

A sequel to a film that really hooked you.

A sophomore album by a band whose debut blew you away.

I'm approaching the resumption of the NHL season with the same cautious optimism. You know, the kind where you're glad it's coming but there's that hint of trepidation where you really hope they don't screw it up.

Players (many, anyway) are back at team facilities, skating and working out in preparation for a short training camp, which is scheduled to begin July 10. At last check, only nine CBJ players and three coaches divided into two groups were participating in the voluntary-but-official sessions. 

Still, it's encouraging to see players back on the ice, especially Seth Jones and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who were on injured reserve when the season was suspended back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tack on Cam Atkinson, Dean Kukan, Alexandre Texier and super call-up Nathan Gerbe to the list of players who would likely have missed all or some of the remaining games had they taken place on schedule but who will now be fully ready to go when the season resumes.

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As an aside, the notion that players who would have been out are now going to play seems a little unfair. I understand that there's no real way to prorate injury time into this rebooted schedule, and of course, all of the teams and all of the players are working under the same rules. That this also is of benefit to the Jackets makes it particularly hard to argue against.

When games do start, the CBJ will match up against the Toronto Maple Leafs, as you have likely heard, in a preliminary round to determine not only who advances, but seeding in the next round. The Leafs are a talented squad with loads of skill up frontsort of like last year's first-round playoff opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This year's Blue Jackets are a different squad than last year, so who knows how things will go in this expanded postseason?

That's the optimism and excitement of looking forward to not only NHL hockey on the ice but also of the playoff variety.

Regardless, I can't shake the notion that, despite the league's best efforts, this rebooted season is still reliant on a novel virus.

Players are being tested as they arrive at the team's facility. The league has set up a comprehensive set of protocols for hygiene, sanitation and other measures that are necessary if players are to be kept healthy and safe. And, when games resume, they will be played in host cities. These "hubs,” as the league is calling them (and there's a reasonable chance Columbus could be one, joining already announced Las Vegas), are designed to reduce the amount of community contact that comes with 22 teams worth of players, coaches and management.

But reading the news of college football players participating in voluntary on-campus workouts testing positive for COVID-19 in small-but-not-insignificant numbers, one begins to wonder at what point a coronavirus spread could prevent a team from playing, and what that could do to a schedule and a playoff bracket.

Add to this the notion that political leaders and a large segment of the population have thrown their hands in the air regarding COVID-19, and even then a successful return to play sends mixed messages to a population that doesn't have access to, or hasn't been offered access to, the same levels of isolation and testing afforded pro athletes.

As we get closer to camps and games,both the excitement and the potential for disappointment increase. I'm working on the hope that everyone stays safe and healthy, and any NHL hockey on top of that is a bonus.