PHILADELPHIA—Should the NHL play its 24-game tournament or bag the season because it is subjecting players and team personnel to the coronavirus?
Would players and staff members have just as much of a chance catching the virus if they stayed home as they would quarantined in a hotel and arena that are following strict health guidelines?
Is it worth playing games to give fans something to watch on their flat screens and fill the NHL coffers with TV revenue, or should the league just cancel the games and stop the impression that money trumps health concerns?
Those are just some of the questions that confront the NHL, whose Stanley Cup champion would have been crowned already if the virus hadn’t gotten in the way.
The league still has plans to restart the season, probably in early August, with a five-round tournament that isn’t expected to end until October — at around the time the 2020-21 season was supposed to start.
Is it crazy to try to finish? Admirable? Somewhere in between?
During the last few months, there’s been a familiar question: If this season ever resumes, will there be an asterisk added to the champion’s name because of the unusual circumstances — the regular season ending early, the playoff format adjusted — caused by the pandemic?
My answer has always been that an asterisk should not be added, but I’m beginning to have second thoughts because this nasty virus could drastically affect playoff lineups. That is, if we even have the playoffs.
Before Friday’s news that 11 NHL players practicing in small-group sessions, including three from powerful Tampa Bay and Toronto superstar Auston Matthews, were stricken with the coronavirus, it was easy to assume the Stanley Cup champ would win the crown on merit.
The champ would have to win at least four best-of-seven series to hoist the Cup, and if the eventual winner was in the play-in round, it would have won an unprecedented 19 games and five series.
Based on that, no asterisk would be needed. The champ would prove it deserved the crown.
With the latest developments, however, I’m not so sure.
In light of what we learned Friday, winning the Cup may be based on luck just as much as skill. The team that is fortunate enough not to have any of its key players stricken by the virus could be the decisive factor.
It’s enough to at least start this conversation: Why not just bag the season and start the next campaign after a vaccine has been developed?
The NHL would lose lots of TV revenue — estimates are around $500 million — but it would gain respect for putting lives ahead of dollars.
Yes, the diehard fans would fume, but isn’t it best to be cautious when you are dealing with a potential killer of a disease?
Those who want the season to restart say the chances of dying from the virus are minuscule.
Those who want the plug pulled on season say sports aren’t essential and putting the players and their staffs at risk, no matter how small, is short-sighted.
As of now, provided the league and the players association can agree on safety and health issues, training camps are supposed to open July 10. After three weeks of camp, how many teams will lose important players to the virus?
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Fans are starting to become more skeptical about the season restarting. In a poll I ran on Twitter right after the season was paused on March 12, 55 per cent of the nearly 5,000 responders said the NHL was wrong for even stopping the games.
Fast-forward to a poll I conducted that ended Saturday and had 3,223 responders, The results: 47 per cent said the league should continue with its playoff plan, 28 per cent said the season should be cancelled, and 25 per cent said the NHL should use a wait-and-see approach.
I’m in the “wait-and-see” camp, but if the virus cases start to balloon when (if) training camps start, it’s time to pull the plug and hope you can start the 2020-21 season in October — though that would probably be wishful thinking because the pandemic is tougher than Dave Schultz in his prime.
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