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Coronavirus outbreak backs up NHL schedule, changes league's plans significantly

Coronavirus outbreak backs up NHL schedule, changes league's plans significantly

Last Thursday, when the NHL officially suspended the 2019-20 regular season amid the rising concerns of the coronavirus outbreak, the league stated that its goal is to "resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup."

If the NHL is to reach its goal, it's going to take some serious time and rescheduling.

The league released an update Monday of its plans regarding player activity, a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the following recommendation:

Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.

Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.

The NHL has given players the option to return home (outside of their club's home city) and is aiming to open “a training camp period roughly 45 days into the 60-day period covered by the CDC’s directive," the league stated in its update.

Forty-five days from the CDC's directive Sunday would slate training camp to begin April 29. The regular season was originally scheduled to wrap up April 4 with the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning April 8.

How all of this impacts the league calendar entering the summer is a whole different issue. Last season, with an unimpeded schedule, the Stanley Cup Final finished June 12 and the 2019 NHL draft was held nine days later from June 21-22. This season, the NHL draft is scheduled for June 26-27, followed obviously by the NHL free agency period opening July 1.

The Flyers are in second place of the Metropolitan Division and one point behind the first-place Capitals with 13 games left on their schedule. According to Hockey-Reference.com, the Flyers entered Monday with a 99.7 percent chance to make the playoffs, 30.5 percent chance to win the Metro and projected to finish with 104 to 105 points.

Time will tell what the Flyers actually have left to accomplish in 2019-20.

The AHL announced a protocol similar to the NHL's Monday.

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Flyers sign prospect Linus Hogberg to entry-level contract

Flyers sign prospect Linus Hogberg to entry-level contract

One down, a few more to go?

The Flyers on Saturday signed prospect Linus Hogberg to an entry-level contract. The rights to Hogberg would have expired Monday if the Flyers didn't ink the 2016 fifth-round pick.

During 2019-20, Hogberg, a 21-year-old Swedish defenseman, had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) through 50 games with the Vaxjo Lakers playing against men in the SHL. The 6-foot-1, 176-pounder is regarded as a strong skater and intelligent passer.

Hogberg will start the 2020-21 season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The Phantoms are gaining on the blue line with prospects Egor Zamula and Wyatte Wylie turning pro, as well.

(Joe Siville/Philadelphia Flyers)

Lehigh Valley could be gaining more with Wyatt Kalynuk and David Bernhardt, who remain unsigned. Bernhardt, another Swedish defenseman, needs to be signed by Monday or his rights will expire. It's uncertain if the Flyers will ink the 2016 seventh-round pick.

It appears Kalynuk has decided to forgo his senior season at Wisconsin as he plans to turn pro in 2020-21.

Kalynuk is an offensive-minded defenseman who has developed a ton with the Badgers. His rights were set to expire next summer. Now that he is leaving Wisconsin, it would be surprising if he's not signed soon by the Flyers.

"Philly has had lots of people here and been very instrumental in his growth as a player," Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato said. "I think when they drafted him, they recognized out of the gate that this guy could be a big part of their organization moving forward. They’ve been hands on, they’ve been here a lot, they’ve done it respectfully in a way that they’ve helped him a ton in preparing to get ready for the next step.”

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2020 NHL playoffs: Without fans, will Stanley Cup Playoff games lose authenticity?

2020 NHL playoffs: Without fans, will Stanley Cup Playoff games lose authenticity?

Hockey has been on the mind all week and even the simple discussion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs has excited fans for the return of their favorite sport — even if things are going to look different this time around. 

While the majority of new rules and procedures were laid out Tuesday thanks to commissioner Gary Bettman, there is still a lot of unknown territory. This format has never been done before, but having a plan in place is the first step to turning concepts into something tangible. 

One of the biggest changes won’t be the additional eight teams, the hub city locations or the fact the NHL has the potential to run into the late summer months, but rather the element — or lack thereof — of fan attendance. 

The safety of fans and players is without a doubt the biggest priority and as we adapt to the “new norm” for the foreseeable future, this is just one of the many things that will have to be endured. 

On the surface, it stinks. Surprisingly enough, you’re allowed to feel this way while also being excited for the hopeful return of the league and games. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are some of the most thrilling weeks in all of sports and a large portion of that is due to the atmosphere created by the fans rallying behind their favorite teams.

So without them in attendance, will games lose their authenticity and lower the overall level of interest? 

Absolutely not. 

Fans have been craving the moment they would have live sports to look forward to and even if that means they can’t physically be in the stands, it doesn’t take away the level of devotion they have.

Of course it will be different — there’s no denying that, but someone rightfully needs to be awarded the Stanley Cup for 2019-20. There are a handful of options to help fill the void, such as playing fan reaction videos on the arena vision screens during thrilling moments of a game. Hearing the “crowd” through the screen would certainly add a level of normalcy, though it wouldn’t fully replicate the atmosphere. 

There are new moments that fans could look forward to in regard to this as well — the sights and sounds that are often coated within cheers or boos. A crisp stop on skates, receiving a puck, solid check along the boards, chirps from one team to another and the celebrations following a goal. 

Also, if things are too quiet, there is a chance to get a look into life on the bench with the players. Hearing teammates interact with one another is always enjoyable when they are mic’d up for games, so imagine having that for a full 60 minutes? It’d be new for everyone, but what a fun concept it would be. 

This is a prime opportunity to view things glass half full, rather than finding negative aspects to this plan. There are still many moving parts before playoffs become a reality once again, but if things are truly done in a safe manner — I say make the most of the situation at hand and drop that puck. 

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