NHL players would rather be playing in packed arenas when the 2019-20 season (probably) resumes. No question.
That won’t happen, of course. Because of coronavirus concerns, fans will not be permitted to attend games as the league plays a 24-team tournament, which is expected to start in early August.
The games will be played at two still-to-be-named hub cities. (Las Vegas is the frontrunner for one of the locations.)
Playing without fans will be “very abnormal, but I think it’ll be kind of cool," Flyers rookie left winger Joel Farabee said on Monday. Farabee said the players would “obviously” like fans to be in the buildings, but that keeping everyone safe was the league’s No. 1 priority.
Patrick Kane, Chicago’s superstar winger, said even without fans, the players want to “put on a show” for the millions watching on TV.
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There are the inevitable ups and downs during an NHL season, and players sometimes need a boost that their crowds can supply.
That won’t happen when the season resumes, so players need to be self-motivated.
“Obviously, you have to create your own energy and you have to get up for games,” Farabee said about playing in empty arenas, “and I think the best team that is able to do that will come out on top.”
Kane, who ruined the Flyers’ championship hopes with a Stanley Cup-clinching overtime goal 10 years ago, said it will be odd not playing in front of spectators.
“We maybe take it for granted a little bit,” he said in an ESPN interview Monday night. “We’re so lucky and fortunate to have 22,000 fans every night in our building. This is my 13th year and it seems every night is sold out. Obviously, we won’t be able to have that, but I’d like to think that once you get into competitive games -- I think hockey players are pretty competitive in general -- that you know what you’re playing for and there’s a chance to play in the playoffs. And to win a Stanley Cup is an amazing opportunity for any hockey player.”
Kane said he didn’t think players were worried about not having fans watch live and that it was “unprecedented times. ... With no fans, it would be totally different and it’ll take maybe a little bit away from the games and the excitement, but as players we’d like to still put on a show because there’s a lot of people who will be watching on TV and it’ll kind of increase our viewership that way.”
Interestingly, John Shannon, a veteran NHL broadcasting expert, ran a Twitter poll recently, asking fans if they want to hear enhanced audio (read: pumped in crowd noise) at the remaining games.
A little over 9,000 people responded, and 60 percent said no, while 40 percent said yes.
Some said they would rather hear players chirping at each other and didn’t want any censorship. One person said the league should pump in the fans’ audio from the microphones on their computers at home.
Another fan, with the screen name Flyer4Ever74/75, answered this way: "I don’t know and don’t care. I just want hockey.”
Assuming the NHL tourney is played, players will be tested every day for the coronavirus, said Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner.
In an interview on ESPN on Monday, Bettman said if a player tests positive for the coronavirus, he will be isolated “and we’ll be monitoring anybody through contact tracing that was in close proximity. Obviously, for any sport, if you have a major outbreak, it’s going to change everything, but we’re being told (by medical experts) that an isolated case, or a couple isolated cases, shouldn’t interfere with the plans and we should be able to move forward" with the tournament.
Bettman noted this year’s champion will have to win at least four best-of-seven rounds -- and might have had another series if it had to get through a play-in round. That, he said, will give the champion integrity.
“I think everybody can feel good that this is a full competition that will bring out the best in our teams and our players,” he said, “and the Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown.”
With the virus returning rapidly in many states, however, the large number of teams competing and the long length of the tournament could make it difficult to complete -- that is, assuming it even gets started.
July 10: If the league and the players’ association iron out some safety and health concerns, the Flyers’ training camp will open at the Skate Zone in Voorhees
Assuming the playoffs are completed, how do you feel the Stanley Cup winner will be seen looking back on the season? A legitimate champion? Or a winner with an asterisk?
(@lcvalent) via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Louis. The champion will almost definitely be legitimate because it will have won at least four rounds. I have one exception: The champ won’t be legitimate if it is Montreal, which had virtually no chance to make the playoffs before the expanded format was implemented.