Claude Giroux’s Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL back when hockey was still being played, but that was more than two months ago and their next game could be two more months away.
Giroux said that he cannot predict how the season might go if allowed to resume.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Right now, everything’s an unknown.”
Among the unknowns about the NHL returning amid the COVID-19 pandemic is what the on-ice product might look like.
In a team sport that demands rhythm and chemistry, players would need to quickly adapt after so much time apart to recapture what it takes to jump right into the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup.
“We want to see great hockey played,” Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “It’s not an exact science. It’s something we’ve never dealt with before, and we want to make the best and most conscious decision we possibly can to obviously make sure not only guys stay safe, but that the quality of hockey is extremely high.”
Unlike basketball, where one player can dominate a game and carry a team, hockey is predicated on players being in sync, knowing where teammates are — and where they are headed next — for tape-to-tape passes.
Timing as a unit is an essential ingredient to success and it is that timing that could be missing early on because of so much time spent off the ice.
With the exception of a handful of players who were rehabbing injuries, living in Sweden or somehow able to find an open rink, most have not skated since the season was halted in the middle of March.
Recapturing that skating stride and building back up to avoid injuries is to be a big part of voluntary workouts before the anticipated start of training camps next month.
Some players have expressed concern about their individual game skills, such as Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine expecting himself to be “terrible” after so much time off.
Many goaltenders do not even have their gear with them and getting back into a groove could take some time.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang said that informal workouts limited to six players should build up conditioning levels, with training camp serving as a time for some team rebuilding.
“The skating and everything comes back pretty quick,” Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “It’s the team mindset, the system play again, where you need to be — that feel. That’s the only stuff you can really get when you’re doing the reps over and over and over again.”
Knowing that the time before games resume would be cut short, Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett dug up his notes from an abbreviated training camp that he oversaw with the Arizona Coyotes going into the 2013 lockout-shortened season.
“It’ll be a little bit like the start of a season where you’ve got to get up and going pretty quick,” Tippett said.
Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon considers it a benefit to have all of the teams on a level playing field going into a 24-team playoff, but the newness of the situation adds a layer of unpredictability and could make this one of the most competitive chases for the Stanley Cup in history.
“There’s going to be some teams that are going to disappoint because they lost their momentum. There could be injuries in the training camp period if we rush too fast,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “It’s going to be like nothing we’ve done before.”
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