As the NHL looks to how they can restart the 2019-20 season, an important first step was taken on Friday with the player’s association approving a 24 team format.
The NHLPA Executive Board has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format, subject to reaching an overall agreement with the League on resuming the 2019-20 season: https://t.co/SIzQYyooEE pic.twitter.com/9TftmApiGJ— NHLPA (@NHLPA) May 23, 2020
While this is an important first step, it’s important to realize it’s not the only step and A LOT is still up in the air to be decided on how, when and where the league can kick back up.
To recap: the NHLPA has agreed to the format itself even though there are other important issues and elements to negotiate. The NHL now will go through its own process and I would expect some form of announcement within the next few days.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 23, 2020
A 24 team scenario likely means that the Penguins will have to “play in” for a somewhat normal 16 team playoff. Though nothing will be normal, since there will be no fans and games are almost certain to take place in neutral hub cities.
Many have speculated the Pittsburgh players might have scoffed at this concept and format, forcing them to play their way in. However, this wasn’t how the team felt, via how their NHLPA representative Kris Letang explained and voted in favor of the idea:
More to come, but PIT NHLPA representative Kris Letang says Penguins voted “yes” to playoff format. “At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want. But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.” He adds safety of everyone remains paramount— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 23, 2020
Elliotte Friedman had more from Letang:
As reports swirled that the Pittsburgh Penguins voted against the 24-team resumption of the NHL season, the team’s NHLPA representative, Kris Letang, said that he voted in favour of the proposal.
“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” the cornerstone defenceman said Friday night. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”
Letang agreed that some players shared strong opinions on Thursday’s conference call, “but we have a union for everyone to express our views. Whatever the format is, some agree, some don’t. As a union, we want to make the best decisions over time, the greater good for everyone.”
Under the proposed format, Letang’s Penguins will open against Montreal. The Canadiens had basically zero chance to make a 16-team field during the regular season, while the Penguins were a lock. It also means an early date with Carey Price, held in high esteem by his peers.
“At the end of the day, the playoffs are a different beast,” Letang said. “No matter (who) you play, it’s going to be hard. (If it wasn’t Montreal), it was going to be Washington, or Philadelphia, or a challenge like that. We have a lot of experience, I’ve never heard of an easy series. Look at Tampa from last year.
“It’s a great challenge for our team right off the bat.”
It’s important to remember that if this playoff proposal does pass (and indications are that it will), this doesn’t mean the NHL is back. There are many, many details to be worked out — from testing on down.
“We miss hockey and it would be fun to get the passion back, but the most important thing is everybody’s health,” Letang said. “Only if we can make it safe for everyone — including trainers, coaches, people who work at the rink (will we return to play).”
Letang’s comments seem to have a good grasp and perspective on the issue, and what is truly important. Really, it doesn’t quite matter just how the league WANTS to come back, it matters a lot more what steps are in place and what precautions and tests are available to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, officials and everyone else who will be on-site for this event in unprecedented times.
At this point, the league still has to determine what happens next. Many are expecting that teams will have some sort of a “training camp” like environment for about three weeks to begin sometime in June. With the games then on-track to begin in July.
There’s still a lot in the air about when that exactly will be, or how they will pull this off, or what are contingency plans if/when any player tests positive for the virus. Many more questions than answers. But the NHL getting the NHLPA on board with the framework of a plan was always going to be a huge first step. Today, they both took that step towards starting the process of finishing the 2019-20 season. We’ll see how it goes from here, but the players giving their blessing means that hockey just made that first meaningful stride towards coming back.