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NHL looking at sites like North Dakota, New Hampshire for summer playoffs

NHL looking at sites like North Dakota, New Hampshire for summer playoffs

The NHL may be forced into some creative solutions if they want to cap off the suspended 2019-20 regular season with Stanley Cup Playoffs this summer, and those kinds of plans-on-the-fly are being assembled by the league on a daily basis.

One of the more interesting plans is to hold the playoff games at designated neutral locations across the U.S. and have multiple games played Olympics-style in those empty arenas. According to reports, Grand Forks, North Dakota and Manchester, New Hampshire are a pair of sites that have been mentioned as possibilities this summer if the NHL can push for playoff games made for television without any fans in the stands.

It’s all theoretical in nature right now, of course, and could change on a daily basis as with everything else dependent on how things play out from an all-important health standpoint.

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Both North Dakota and Manchester are regular hosts in the NCAA hockey tournament, so they are at least accustomed to host larger multiple-game tournaments. That's part of what makes them ideal settings along with being lower-populated areas away from the coronavirus hot spots in the country.

There are plenty of hurdles to jump over, obviously.

All players, officials and coaches would need to be tested prior to the games being played to make certain the virus couldn’t spread and would need to essentially be quarantined for months while the playoffs roll out in these neutral sites. There is motivation to get this done, however, for multiple reasons.

The NHL obviously wants a playoff conclusion to the current season that could be ideally played out over the summer, and then plans could be made for something close to a full 2020-21 NHL regular season perhaps beginning in November.

Gary Bettman and the rest of North America’s sports commissioners and organizers sat in on a conference call with President Donald Trump over the weekend where the message seemed to be that the White House would like sports back sooner rather than later as the country aspires to get back to normalcy.

“[The sports leagues] want to get back," said Trump during a press briefing later on Saturday. "They've got to get back. They can't do this. Their sports weren't designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn't designed for it. We have to get back. We want to get back soon."

All that being said, the return of any sports is not going to happen unless there is massive improvement over the next month as social distancing and self-quarantining are utilized nationally to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported last weekend that the NBA is also considering its usual summer home of Las Vegas as a centralized setting for their potential playoffs this summer as well.

The good news is that there are still very vibrant, creative plans for playoff hockey this summer, so the hope is still very much alive that we’ll see NHL players doing their thing a few months from now.

NHL announces players can start working out at league facilities on Monday

NHL announces players can start working out at league facilities on Monday

The NHL will finally be swinging their doors open next week.

After a nearly three-month pause to the 2019-20 NHL season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the NHL announced on Thursday night that the league's practice facilities will be allowed to open for small groups of players to practice, and work out off the ice, starting on Monday. It doesn’t necessarily mean every NHL team will begin practicing in groups of up to six players starting on June 8, but that should begin a month-long progression toward NHL training camps starting sometime around the July 10 date.

Here’s the statement from the NHL:

Subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning. Phase 2 is not a substitute for training camp. All necessary preparations for Phase 2, including those that require Player participation (education, diagnostic testing, scheduling for medicals, etc.), can begin immediately. The NHL and the NHLPA continue to negotiate over an agreement on the resumption of play.

It's not yet clear if the Bruins already in the area are going to start skating at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday, but they have already been given the go-ahead by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as the Celtics have started voluntary workouts across the street.

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The league still needs to come to an agreement with the NHLPA on many aspects of the return to play plan that go beyond the 24-team format, and today’s news that advancing teams will be re-seeding after each round and each of the four playoff rounds will be seven-game series following the short qualifying play-in round.

When comparing things to the NBA, who already has dates to resume the season, for their draft and a location for everything to take place, the National Hockey League still has plenty of substantive work to do before hockey is truly back.

There’s no doubt that momentum continues to build for the NHL to resume in the next couple of months with hopes that an eventual Stanley Cup champion will be named sometime in October.

ESPN's Max Kellerman really needs to buzz off with his NHL takes

ESPN's Max Kellerman really needs to buzz off with his NHL takes

It’s thoroughly stupefying in this day and age that the NHL is somehow still not considered by anyone to be one of the “four major team sports” in the United States.

But then again today we’re talking about dopey talking head Max Kellerman, who is a boxing guy, of all things, by trade. There’s zero measure of what actual sports knowledge he’s ever brought to the table aside from the low-hanging fruit of bashing Tom Brady.

Clearly Kellerman knows a thing or two about an irrelevant sport given his boxing background, but somebody should perhaps clue him in that the NHL is a $5 billion-plus business with the preponderance of that business being done in the USA with 24 of the 31 teams located in America.  

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“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but in the United States of America nobody cares about hockey,” said ESPN’s Max Kellerman while appearing on "First Take" on Wednesday. “The old joke is every town has 20,000 hockey fans because they all have season tickets. The arenas are always sold out, but the TV ratings don’t do anything. So it’s not one of the four major team sports.”

I don’t want to hurt Max Kellerman’s feelings, but who the hell is Max Kellerman besides a super duper poor man’s Larry Merchant?

Certainly, there are pockets of the U.S. where hockey isn't huge, particularly in southern cities where there isn’t any NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL sports team representation, and where college sports are treated like the pros. There is always some national interest in the NCAA around college bowl time or March Madness, but that’s about it.

Does anybody who actually lives in a major metropolitan U.S. city consider NCAA sports more of a “major team sport” in the U.S. above and beyond the world of the NHL?

Has Kellerman ever heard of NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin who play in U.S. markets as iconic household names with national endorsement deals and pop culture crossover appeal?

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins were all pegged with values over $1 billion according to Forbes Magazine and they were joined by Canadian billion dollar hockey clubs in Montreal and Toronto as well.

That sounds like a lot more than 20,000 fans scattered around those cities, doesn’t it?

Let’s be honest here.

Clearly Kellerman knows nothing about the NHL or hockey and is resorting to tired old clichés when talking about the league.

He’s clamoring for attention given that he’s been saying for years that Tom Brady was “falling off a cliff” and that TB12 was the worst QB in the NFL playoff fields in years that New England then went on to win the Super Bowl. If you keep saying it each and every year then the law of averages dictate you’ll finally get it right at some point, right?

He was roundly mocked as a bozo complete with a clown nose for that take, and this NHL bashing is a variation on that same bombastic, look-at-me theme.

And he’s working at the perfect place for it given the short shrift that ESPN has always ludicrously given to the hockey world once they no longer had a TV deal with the National Hockey League.

But the NHL is one of the four major team sports in the U.S. as well as in Canada, and takes its position alongside the NFL that is still king, an NBA that has grown exponentially in popularity over the last 40 years and a dying business of Major League Baseball that might be dealing itself a fatal blow with its foolhardy inability to get back on the field since the COVID-19 outbreak.

The NHL has a national television deal with NBC and it has thriving fan bases in non-traditional markets like Nashville, Las Vegas and Tampa Bay because their teams have made it to the Stanley Cup Final in recent years. Who can forget the 2017 Stanley Cup Final in Music City where a who’s who of celebrities and country western superstars turned the games in Nashville into big-time events from a national perspective?  

The Stanley Cup Playoffs remain the most captivating and attention-grabbing of all the postseasons run by any of the four major pro sports, and the Winter Classic has proven to be a ratings-grabbing national event in the prime New Year’s Day television-watching spot. That’s why genuinely talented and entertaining American sports talking heads like Charles Barkley have been preaching the gospel of NHL hockey for years and years.  

You won’t hear any of that from Kellerman, or his piping hot hockey takes, while he patiently waits for his preferred sport of boxing to return after not being anything close to a major sport since Mike Tyson was heavyweight champ 30 years ago.

Stick to the Tom Brady bashing, Max, or hope and pray that the world of boxing becomes barely relevant again sometime soon.