Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin would want integrity and fairness for the rest of the NHL season if it’s able to resume.
But the captains of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have a biased opinion of what the NHL should do if and when the pause in the season due to the coronavirus ends.
“You try to get in as many games as you can, I think, but I wouldn’t mind starting right at the playoffs,” Crosby, the Penguins center, said Thursday during a video call arranged by the NHL that included New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal and Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux.
The NHL season has been paused since March 12 because of the pandemic. All rinks and training facilities are closed, and players are being told to self-quarantine in their homes and follow the guidelines given by local, state and federal authorities.
“The more games we play, it’s going to be better for our fans and better for the teams fighting to get in the playoffs,” Ovechkin, the Capitals forward, said during a video call with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno, New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban and New York Islanders forward Anders Lee. “But I’d rather start the playoffs right now. Sorry, guys.”
The topic of what the NHL should do with the rest of the season if it is allowed to continue has been a talking point among players. Opinions have varied between finishing as much of the regular season as possible to starting the playoffs straight away. They are mainly based on where each player’s team is in the standings, but fairness and the future are under consideration.
Crosby said he is fine going straight into the playoffs because the Penguins are in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 86 points through 69 games. They are in position to make the playoffs for a 14th straight season, the longest active streak in the NHL.
“Definitely not what Sid said,” said Marc Staal, whose Rangers are two points behind the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets for the two wild cards into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Staal said he’s heard speculation on group chats with teammates about the possibility of the NHL allowing more teams into the playoffs if they start immediately after the pause is lifted, or a play-in scenario to give some teams, like the Rangers, a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have if it went by the standings to date.
“[Forget] the Rangers, let’s just start playoffs right away,” Jordan Staal said jokingly, a comment aimed at his brother. “You can speculate and try to decide what’s fair, but there is always going to be someone that is [angry] about it. Whatever we do decide, let’s hope it’s best for the Canes.”
Giroux, whose Flyers are second in the division with 89 points, one behind the Capitals, thought about what was best for all NHL teams.
“Whatever is the fairest, I think everybody would accept that,” Giroux said.
Subban brought up an idea that out-of-contention teams like the Devils would accept.
“A possible 31-[team] playoff format,” he said. “I like that, giving us an opportunity to play in the playoffs and play meaningful hockey down the stretch. For us, I don’t even know, right. I could be working out for no reason. We’ll wait and see, but I’d like to play some more hockey.”
Foligno played devil’s advocate by saying he was torn over what is best right now even though the Blue Jackets are in a playoff position. He said he worries that pushing this season into the summer and having a shortened offseason could negatively impact the health and safety of many of the League’s star players who might help carry their teams on deep playoff runs.
“I’m not saying guys won’t grind out a way to do it, because us hockey players will find a way, but you’ve got to think about the longevity of guys’ careers and their health as well,” Foligno said. “And then also on top of that, now you have, and no offense P.K., but in your situation, what if you don’t end up playing (for the rest of this season), and then we don’t come back (to start next season) until November? That’s a long time without playing. Is that advantageous or is that worse?”
Foligno said he likes the fact the NHL has not rushed to judgment on anything regarding the future of this season, and next.
“Guys have been honest in throwing out ideas because any idea is worth it at this point, but we really have to think about how we’re going to go ahead here and smartly, both on the business side and on the health side, and for the fans as well,” he said. “We want to give them the best product every time we step on the ice. That’s something we pride ourselves in and they expect it. They’re the ones paying their hard-earned money for it. It’s all stuff we have to think about.”