Colorado Avalanche: Fans Divided Over NHL’s Return to Play

DENVER, CO - APRIL 17: Fans head for the arena as the Minnesota Wild face the Colorado Avalanche in Game One of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 17, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Wild 5-4 in overtime to take a 1-0 game advantage in the series. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 17: Fans head for the arena as the Minnesota Wild face the Colorado Avalanche in Game One of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 17, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Wild 5-4 in overtime to take a 1-0 game advantage in the series. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche have clinched the playoffs, but a lot of fans are dissatisfied with what Return to Play will look like.

The Colorado Avalanche have officially clinched a playoff spot. It’s late May, already after Memorial Day, and the Avs are officially making the playoffs.

That’s life in these COVID times.

The NHL released its official Return to Play Plan for the completion of the 2019-20 season. And some fans are not happy about it.

The regular season is officially over. The Colorado Avalanche finished second in the Central Division/Western Conference with 92 points. They were just two points behind St. Louis with a game in hand — the story of the entire season. They were also scheduled to play St. Louis in the final game of the season, but oh well.

Colorado is one of eight teams that officially made the playoffs. The other eights spots are to be decided by a play-in round. The next 16 teams in the standings, eight per conference, will play a best-of-five qualifying round.

Right there is where some fans go off the rails. The Vegas Golden Knights — who are one of the teams who clinched — summed up the dissatisfaction best:

Over three-quarters of the teams still have a chance at the playoffs. Here’s how the play-in round looks in the west:

#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks

#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes

#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild

#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets

Yes, that’s annoying. The Blackhawks have no business gearing up to play more hockey. However, they still had 12 games to play when the season was put on pause, and they were only six points out of a spot. Technically, they could have still made the playoffs.

Those series will follow playoff rules for overtime.

Some fans — and players — are dissatisfied with what the top eight teams are going to be doing during the play-in round. While the 16 teams are battling it out for a playoffs position, the top eight have a bye-week during which they’ll play three games in a round robin tournament. The results of the round robin will determine seeding.

I’m one of the fans who’s not thrilled with the bye-week. The Colorado Avalanche were hot when the season got put on pause. They’ve been on break for 2 1/2 months — they hardly need a bye week. They’re even healthy!

Anyway, the round robin games will follow regular season rules for overtime.

As expected, the NHL has settled on two hub cities to accommodate the two conferences. The league is keeping its options open to see which cities are in a good place safety wise — no big outbreaks, good testing available — but the following cities are in consideration:

– Chicago, IL
– Columbus, OH
– Dallas, TX
– Edmonton, AB
– Las Vegas, NV
– Los Angeles, CA
– Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
– Pittsburgh, PA
– Toronto, ON
– Vancouver, BC

It’s said that Vegas is a heavy favorite because of their ability to make good ice and because they’re so well set up to accommodate hundreds of people who will need relatively closed-off facilities. However, with as much time off as the players are going to have while they wait for other teams, I’d rather they not have that much access to the adult playground of Vegas.

Interestingly, the NHL would prefer host cities not host their own teams, even if there can’t be fans in the buildings. They don’t want any perception that there would be an unfair advantage for them. What’s more, you’d think it would be harder to make yourself isolate in a hotel when you have a house a few miles away.

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So, if Vegas is chosen, the Colorado Avalanche would be unlikely to play there because it’s the same conference.

Anyway, per the guidelines, teams will be allowed to bring only 50 personnel to the hub city. They can also have rosters up to 30 players because of potential substitutions needed. I believe once isolation begins, they’re not supposed to bring anyone new in.

That means each hub city is responsible for hosting and feeding around 960 people. I’m not sure yet about families.

As reported, Phase 2 is slated to start in early June. That phase sees players able to return to team facilities in small groups. They don’t have to be in their NHL city — any NHL player can access NHL facilities in any city. (I’m not sure about the cities where hockey is officially done for the season.)

Phase 3 is scheduled for some time in July. Teams will be able to conduct formal training camps with guidance from medical and civil authorities. I think the camps are meant to take place in the home cities.

Phase 4, which will start late summer, is the actual play-in round and playoffs. As noted, the play-in round is a best-of-five series. The NHL hasn’t determined yet the format or series lengths of the first and second rounds. However, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals will be the usual best-of-seven series.

Here’s where some more fan discontent comes in. Many fans want to say that this year’s winner will have an asterisk by their names. As in, “Technically they won, but it was under extraordinary circumstances.”

In the modern NHL, you have to get through four rounds, so four teams fighting to eliminate you, to win the Stanley Cup. The same is happening this year. There is no reason for an asterisk.

Finally, the biggest subset of fans who haven’t greeted this news enthusiastically worries that it’s too much too soon and too many people will be put at risk by starting sports up too soon.

Some fans have even declared that the NHL won’t be happy until a player dies of COVID.

I understand their concerns. As I’ve shared, I work with the public and I’ve had to return to work.

I think we’ll see a lot fewer corners cut here than you do with other industries, such as salons and restaurants, that have opened back up. Teams have enough funds to buy the supplies and personnel to ensure everyone from Sidney Crosby to the zamboni driver is well looked after.

And the players want to return. And, guess what, it’s the biggest morale booster for the general population. When the announcement came out, and hockey seemed that much closer to returning, my heart burst with joy.

The Colorado Avalanche clinched a playoff spot. I don’t have to think about getting sick, dying, finances, etc. I can lose myself in the elation of cheering my team, my heroes. I can focus on that modicum of normalcy in these awful times.

I’ve been going through a lot of anger lately about how hateful people are toward each other over things that seem as simple as wearing a mask to protect others.

Now I can focus my hate on a proper target — the Minnesota Wild. (My counterpart over at Gone Puck Wild makes it really hard to hate them, but I still hate their team.)

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No, really, we need this distraction in our lives. The players want to play. The NHL wants to put these games on. Sure, there’s a risk involved for all the players, personnel, and staff. But it’s there already whether it’s NHLers or vacationers staying in the hotels and dining in the restaurants.

At least the NHL have a plan in place.