When the 2020 postseason finally gets underway in August, the games will be played without fans. NHL commissioner Garry Bettman said in a press conference Saturday that the league had "very special things planned" to enhance the game atmosphere, but regardless of what the league tries to do, there is no question that the games are going to lose something without that fan element. No Capitals player understands that more than Tom Wilson.
"Less boos and less cheers, I guess, at home," Wilson said after Monday's practice. "But it will be weird."
Fans like having access to the players, but there is such a thing as too much access. We see that every year when a team wins the Stanley Cup and the cameras (and especially the mics) get too close to the celebrations. After a few swear words make it into the broadcast, the camera quickly shifts away. Now imagine what you can hear from players when there is no sound from the fans to drown them out.
That's something that Wilson, a known trash-talker on the ice, has thought about.
"I’ll have to watch, I guess, what I’m saying," he said. "Less F words and stuff like that. It will definitely be a little bit different if the mics are picking that up. But I guess it will be entertaining."
But how will this affect the game itself?
Just how strange it will be to see games without fans in the stands and how exactly these games will look and sound has been discussed ad nauseam to this point. Something that no one is talking about is how this could actually affect the game.
Physical play is not just about the physical toll it takes on opposing players, it's also about building momentum. It's about feeding off the swell of the crowd, the boos or the cheers after a big hit.
While physical play will always be a part of Wilson's game, what will that look like without fans? Will that element of the game be as effective without a crowd to feed off of?
"I’m a guy that thrives off of momentum and energy," Wilson said. "That’s something that I try to bring to the table, so I guess you can say that it’s even more important for me to do that and try to lift the team up any way I can."
Wilson has worked his way into a top-line role as a player with top-six skill to go with his physical prowess. It's a combination few players can match in today's NHL which makes him such a valuable asset for Washington.
Can he still be as effective with no crowd and if not, how will this change Washington's forward makeup? It's a question the team needs to answer very quickly.
"I think there will definitely be times when it gets a little bit quiet out there," Wilson said, "But I guess we’ll just pretend that we’re playing in a rink that has a little less atmosphere than we’re privileged to have in DC.”
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