Colorado Avalanche: Considerations for the Return of Hockey

13 Oct 1999: An exterior shot of the Pepsi Center before the game between Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated Bruins 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
13 Oct 1999: An exterior shot of the Pepsi Center before the game between Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated Bruins 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport /

The Colorado Avalanche may get their chance at the Stanley Cup if the NHL is able to resume the season. Here are considerations for that to happen.

The Colorado Avalanche, like the whole NHL, are into their second month of self-isolation thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their self-isolation is set to end tomorrow.

The NBA, which was the first to put its season on pause, will begin re-opening practice facilities for individual workouts in places where the stay-at-home orders have been relaxed on May 8. Reports have come out that the NHL is considering something similar for the NHL a week later.

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Scenarios change just about every other day for what the resumption of the season could look like. It’s almost certain whatever scenario wins out will be one that involves no fans in arenas.

A frequently asked question is why the NHL doesn’t just cancel the 2019-20 season now and let players get ready for the 2020-21 season. Here’s the answer.

The 2020-21 season will not start normally no matter what. Arenas will not be full of fans until there’s a vaccine, and that will not happen by October. The best-case scenario is maybe some games late in the calendar year can be played in arenas at 25% capacity with strict arena personnel in attendance.

And the NHL prefers to play 2019-20 playoffs games in empty arenas instead of regular season games. I’m sure the rationale is TV ratings — and therefore revenue — are sure to be higher for playoff than regular season games. So, they probably won’t start the regular season until late 2020 regardless of what happens this summer.

The NHL has stated that health officials are driving this initiative. So, whatever does happen this summer — if anything — will have to be under strict protocol.

Let’s look at what that will look like and what we can expect.

European Players

After a week of quarantine, the NHL allowed players to return to their home cities, including those out of the country. Many Europeans returned home. For some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Finland, that’s not a problem. Their response to the pandemic has been similar to the United States’ and Canada’s, and they haven’t been so ravaged by deaths.

What about Russia, home to many NHLers? They were close-lipped about what was going on within their borders, but now the pandemic is marching across the huge nation. They’ve extended their lockdown until May 11. No telling if Russian NHLers would be allowed to return. (On the Colorado Avalanche, Nikita Zadorov has remained in Colorado. I think Valeri Nuchushkin isn’t in Russia. I’m not sure about Vladislavs Kamenev and Namestnikov.)

Sweden has taken a more laissez-faire approach to the pandemic. They haven’t shut down, and social distancing has been minimized. They now have between three to five times the amount of deaths per capita than their Scandinavian neighbors.

Andre Burakovsy returned to Sweden and, judging by his Instagram, hasn’t been social distancing. Gabriel Landeskog is in self-isolation in Toronto.

If the Russians and, especially, Swedes, are permitted to return, they should have to go into isolation in North America for two weeks. Players coming from the stricter countries might not, especially if they wore PPE while traveling.

Neutral Locations

Between nine to 12 teams are bidding to serve as neutral sites for whatever hockey can be played. The preference is to see at least some regular season hockey, however, alternate scenarios are also in play.

In order for a team’s facilities to be considered, they need to be able to provide a “bubble” for the teams and attendant staff. According to Sportsnet, that would be between 600 to 1,000 people per city.

That bubble would have to include hotels near the arena, restaurants to provide food for all those people for the duration of the tournaments, and nearby practice rinks. The players also need to be on buses more that on foot for isolation purposes.

Attendant personnel obviously include coaches and other staff. The media, including the team social media, would be part of that bubble if they come in contact with the players. Apparently it also includes the rink staff.

The city also cannot have been hit hard by the pandemic, which leaves out cities like New York and all of California.

Quarantined Players

Everyone in the bubble would have to be fully quarantined in the hotels. They would only be allowed to have contact with others in the bubble.

They would be quarantined away from their families for the duration of their season and postseason. Even in an accelerated playoffs scenario, that could be weeks.

Is that too much to ask? Of the players, no. The players who would be competing in the playoffs have been training for this their entire lives. When they go on the road, they’re away from their families for even a couple weeks. And money isn’t important in cases like this, but it’s a nice cushion.

Is it too much to ask of team staff? Again, no. Much of the same rationale applies to coaches and trainers. The lower down the food chain you go, the ask starts getting a little tougher.

Is it too much to ask of team media, such as social and announcers? Yes. But then, I’m not sure they’d have to. If you’re, say, never within 20 feet of someone in the bubble, you shouldn’t have to be quarantined.

Is it too much to ask of arena staff? Yes. I would hope they get hazard pay and very nice quarters.

Going back to my “no” answers — it’s still an ask. The NHLPA will not force players to play. If they prefer to be with their families, that’s their choice. Same to team personnel and arena staff.

The crux for them is same as it is for you an me. We don’t have to return to our jobs as the restrictions are lifted. But we don’t get paid if we don’t work. Neither will they.

I’m going to guess the vast majority of playoff-bound players will agree to the quarantine. Many players do it anyway when they get traded at deadline and know they’re just a rental — they leave their families behind to prevent unnecessary disruption.

This situation is different, of course. However, like I said, it would be up to the players, personnel, and staff anyway. So go ahead and ask.

On the Colorado Avalanche, there are four new fathers — Gabriel Landeskog, Pavel Francouz, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Nazem Kadri all have infants at home. Additionally, Matt Calvert, Nikita Zadorov, and Ian Cole have children.

Playoff Product

Finally, there’s a question about whether the NHL can put out a valid playoff product.

First off, you have the conditioning of the players. They’ve been exercising as best they can. Some have full gyms, but few, if any have had access to ice. Their conditioning and timing will be off. They’ll have a short training camp, but you won’t see the same playoff hockey you saw last season.

How are the teams going to keep fans engaged? I don’t think that’s a real issue, though, because hockey fans want to see playoff hockey. And a lot of casual fans want to see any sport there is.

The broadcasts are going to be different than what we’re used to. You can’t show fans. However, the broadcasting networks can take this situation and run with it.

Related Story. What Season Resumption May Look Like. light

Plus, we’ll finally get to see a scenario in which most if not all the players are healthy. On the Colorado Avalanche, that’s the case. After stumbling through the season with players seemingly dropping in every game, we’d finally be able to ice a full roster.