Blackhawks

NHL players reportedly push back on idea of continuing in centralized locations

NHL players reportedly push back on idea of continuing in centralized locations

The NHL continues to explore different scenarios as it prepares to conclude the 2019-20 season in some form but appears to be pivoting from the idea of continuing in centralized locations and is now looking into the possibility of resuming in each team's home cities, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post. The players reportedly opposed the idea of being away from their families for several months in a row.

Former Blackhawks center and current Montreal Canadiens star Phillip Danault was the most vocal after telling reporters earlier in the week he was strongly against the idea and sensed he wasn't the only player to feel the same way.

“It really makes no sense, in my head, to distance myself for two months from my kid,” Danault said. “And I imagine it makes even less sense for those who would go far in the playoffs, who are on playoff teams right now. If a team goes to the Stanley Cup Final, it could be three to four months. It’s inhumane to do that, as far as I’m concerned. But the league has to make a decision and I imagine the players will have to vote on it, and I’m not sure they’ll be in favour of being away from family for two-to-three months.”

Danault certainly makes a valid point, but the logistics — most notably, testing and travel — could be a major challenge if the NHL and NHLPA don't come up with some sort of compromise to make things as safe and as fair as possible whenever hockey does return.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in an interview with NHL Network on Thursday that the league is considering pushing back the 2020-21 season to as late as December but cautioned nothing is close to being finalized yet. It remains a fluid situation.

"We have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start," Bettman said. "There's no magic for next season of starting in October as we traditionally do. If we have to start in November or December, that's something that will be under consideration. We're going to try to make good, prudent, careful judgments. This isn't a race to be first back."

The NHL and NHLPA is hoping to move to "Phase 2" by mid-to-late May, which would allow players to return to small group activities in NHL club training facilities.

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Oilers defenseman Caleb Jones "unfit to play" first two days of Phase 3

Oilers defenseman Caleb Jones "unfit to play" first two days of Phase 3

Oilers defenseman Caleb Jones was ruled "unfit to play" and didn't practice with Edmonton on Day 1 of their Phase 3 training camp leading up to their play-in series against the Blackhawks on Monday. TSN's Ryan Rishaug reported there was no change to Jones' status for Day 2, but that Jones did skate with the Oilers' second group on Tuesday. 

Under the NHL's Return To Play protocol, teams will not be giving specifics on the status of players who are unavailable to skate.

Oilers coach Dave Tippett shed some more light on Jones' status folling Tuesday's practice.

"He'll continue to skate every day until we get the green light that he can join the regular group, but he's progressing and hopefully not in the too distant future he can come and be a part of the main group. Won't be tomorrow, it won't be the next couple days, but we'll see where we are in the next couple days," Tippett said.

Related: Corey Crawford misses Day1 of training camp, deemed "unfit" to play by Blackhawks

Jones, 23, has played in 60 games with the Oilers over the past two seasons. Mike Green, another Edmonton defenseman, opted out of the NHL's Return To Play program and will not participate in camp or the league's 24-team playoffs.

The Hawks will play the Oilers in a best-of-five qualifying round in Edmonton starting Aug. 1.

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Why Blackhawks are eager for 'heck of an opportunity' ahead of NHL's restart

Why Blackhawks are eager for 'heck of an opportunity' ahead of NHL's restart

When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Blackhawks had a 2.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Hockey Reference. They were six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference and had four teams to jump, which would have been virtually impossible with only three weeks of hockey left.

But because of the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was forced to get creative about its Return to Play plan and announced a 24-team format in May. The Blackhawks, as we know, were the final team in the West to get in.

And while it may not feel like their postseason drought has ended, the Blackhawks won't apologize for it. They've been handed a gift and want to take advantage of this new life.

"It's a heck of an opportunity," Jonathan Toews said after Day 1 of training camp. "We were kind of going down that road where our playoff chances were dwindling. It would've been a long-shot otherwise, but we were able to sneak in under these rules and under this format, so it's an opportunity for all of us. Regardless of whether there's fans in the building or not, there's something to play for."

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You won't find a bigger competitor than Duncan Keith, who's a two-time Norris Trophy winner and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He wants to get back to playing consistent playoff hockey and is as motivated about the restart as anyone. Just check his Instagram page.

"The biggest thing is just the fact that we're getting a chance to compete and be in the playoffs," Keith said. "You go back to the regular season, we were several points out and it wasn't looking good. Now we're in this opportunity — it's a great opportunity for us to try to prove that we deserve to be in the playoffs. ... We know we've got our work cut out for us, but I think as a group, we're excited to have this opportunity and show that we belong and that we could make some noise as an underdog."

On one end of the spectrum, you have a group of multiple Stanley Cup winners hungry to play meaningful hockey again. On the other end, you have a group of young players that haven't had a taste of the postseason yet and are itching to find out, even though there won't be any fans in attendance.

Put the groups together and you have a hungry Blackhawks squad that's eager to show they can make a potential run.

"It's good experience for everyone because the veteran guys that have played a lot of playoff hockey have never been through something like this before and the young guys who have never played in the playoffs, there's no better opportunity to try and get your feet wet and try and show your teammates what you can do," Toews said. "So, every game, that thought of the Cup being on the line has to be in the back of your mind. You win one game, there's no telling how far you can go, so we'll really try and build that feeling and that mindset in the locker room over the next couple weeks before we start."