No one is quite sure when the NHL season may resume from its current pause due to the coronavirus and no one can agree on what exactly the NHL season should look like when it does. But if you think resuming the season is as simple as naming a date as soon as possible and staring on the fly, guess again. In fact, getting the players back up to game speed may be so difficult, Nicklas Backstrom wants to see exhibition games played before anyone starts playing in games that matter again.
“I think obviously a small training camp would be huge and some exhibition games too," Backstrom said in a video conference with the media on Wednesday.
The problem, as Backstrom notes, is that players will need to get back into game shape and teams will have to get back up to speed. Expecting players to jump from a lengthy break straight into the end of the regular season or even into the playoffs, the most intense hockey of the season, puts the players in a difficult position.
"I think it's important we've got to have some sort of camp if this is going to be able to start again hopefully," he said. "To be fair, I think that the teams that maybe's not in the playoff or already eliminated, they've got no shot. After that, you've just got to make it as easy as possible, but you've got to have some exhibition games before because otherwise, jumping straight in the playoffs, it's going to be a little tough I think."
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He added, "I see a lot of guys are practicing on their stickhandling on Instagram and stuff like that, but that is not the same.”
A realistic option for when play does resume is returning to empty arenas. The Columbus Blue Jackets were set to become the first team to play in front of an empty arena, but their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was postponed due to the league's pause.
If you have ever wondered if a crowd can really affect the players, Backstrom was unequivocal that, at least for him, the crowd is critical.
"It would be really tough to play without the fans because they are everything to us and without fans, the atmosphere they bring, I think it would be really tough," he said.
But don't take any of this to mean that Backstrom is ready to throw in the towel on the season.
While no one seems quite sure how the NHL should finish its season, there seems to be a general consensus among everyone in hockey that it is absolutely critical to find a way to award a Stanley Cup champion for the 2019-20 season. The issue is not whether the NHL should, it's how?
"We're pretty close to the playoff," Backstrom said. "You obviously want to finish the season with a champion. That doesn't change anything. Whether we play mid-summer, you want to do it. You want to have a champion this year if possible. That's for sure. I think we're pretty unknown, what's gonna happen. We're just following the directions from the government and the league I think. Best-case scenario would be for us to finish the season, whether it's in summer or pretty soon."
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