On Saturday August 1, the National Hockey League (NHL) will resume the season and kick off the playoffs. As with other sports, overseas competition was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The situation in the strongest hockey league on the planet has become one of the main intrigues in world sports.
The organization took a long time to decide on the start of the season and worked out a detailed roadmap. As a result, we agreed to end the regular season ahead of schedule, and not to allow 16 teams to enter the playoffs, as it was before, but 24. All Stanley Cup matches will be held in two cities – Toronto and Edmonton.
At the beginning of the week, all the participants gathered there, who are already holding exhibitions. At the same time, in early July, when the teams began to prepare for the playoffs, some of them had outbreaks of coronavirus. For example, in the ranks of one of the Stanley Cup favorites, the Tampa Bay Lightning, five people, three hockey players and two club employees were infected.
Nevertheless, the NHL did not deviate from the planned plan and is going to finish the season. The league will not change the regulations for the sake of the newcomers of their teams from Europe and Russia, who only this summer signed their first contracts with North American clubs. They were not allowed to enter the upcoming playoffs, since in the 2019/20 season the period of transitions and exchanges ended in February. Thus, recruits will only be able to debut in official matches during the winter when the next season kicks off. This also applies to three Russians – Minnesota Wild striker Kirill Kaprizov, New York Islanders goalkeeper Ilya Sorokin and Montreal Canadiens defender Alexander Romanov.
Photo: Izvestia / Dmitry Korotaev
The situation with the resumption of the season in the NHL in an interview with Izvestia was commented on by the famous striker of the USSR and Russian national teams Sergei Nemchinov, who twice won the Stanley Cup – in 1994 with the New York Rangers and in 2000 with the New Jersey Devils.
– Did you expect the NHL to go to the end in its desire to finish the season even after the outbreak of the coronavirus with some teams?
– They wanted to start the season, they planned everything and are trying to implement it. I think a lot of this is due to the terms of the league’s sponsorship and contracts with television and advertisers. There are very large sums at stake here, which is important for the NHL business.
– If an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs within a team during the playoffs, can the Stanley Cup be stopped?
– I think the health of athletes and people in general is above all. Therefore, the league will proceed from the current situation. And every day to see what the situation is like. There will be strict control by doctors, including daily testing. Based on the test results, decisions will be made. I think it is difficult to make any predictions now. Yes, the NHL has a plan for teams to play. But in the event of a large-scale outbreak of an epidemic, certain changes may occur. However, now I find it difficult to even guess what these adjustments will be and at what scale of the problem they are possible.
– Do you approve of the NHL’s decision to allow hockey players to refuse to participate in the upcoming playoffs?
– I think it was the players’ demand. Several people refused to continue the season in the NHL. And this is a normal compromise between the league and the participants. In this situation, you can understand everyone who did not want to play. Although we see the opposite examples. For example, Max Domi, who was told not to play because he has diabetes, wanted to participate in the playoffs and came to Montreal’s training camp. So here everyone acts at their own discretion.
Photo: Izvestia / Pavel Bednyakov
– How did you react to the fact that the league did not allow newcomers to enter the playoffs, but allowed them to immediately conclude agreements with the clubs and already during the season to “burn” a year of the newcomer’s contracts?
– Well, this is the rule that the NHL established. I think it is beneficial for the players when one year of a beginner’s contract immediately “burns out”. The fact that they won’t play for a long time – until November-December – is not critical. The guys dreamed of getting into the NHL and for this they agree to such conditions. In my opinion, in the current situation, this is reasonable.
– How can players, in particular Kaprizov, Sorokin and Romanov, start playing in the NHL after six months without official matches?
– I think they will train. Of course, it would be great if these hockey players had the opportunity to play in Russia or Europe for several months until the next season in the NHL begins. But, on the other hand, it is quite dangerous – there is a risk of injury and seriously postponing your debut overseas.
– At one time, even without coronavirus, people left for Europe or did not play at all for a long time due to contract disputes, as it was, for example, with Alexei Yashin with Ottawa …
– There were such cases. And more than once. And when the guys left for Europe, they played there, and then returned. And it happened that they did not play hockey for a long time, when there were contract proceedings. This happened not only with Yashin, but also with other hockey players. But nothing, in the end people returned to the ice and pretty quickly began to show their best game. So the simple one that is now waiting for Kaprizov, Sorokin and Romanov is, of course, an unpleasant thing, but not such a big problem that they could not properly prepare for the next season.