As spring turns to summer, my desperation for live sports only intensifies. Sure, there’s NASCAR and golf and Korean baseball, but it’s not the same as watching my favorite teams play. I was excited when the NHL announced their Return to Play format - as were most SB Nation NHL fans - but as the comments on that post pointed out, there’s still doubt that the postseason will happen. The NHL and NHLPA agreed on a format, but there are still many hurdles to be cleared before games can be played.
Despite those challenges, there is just enough progress being made each week to get my hopes up, even if we’re still at least a month and a half away from competition. First, players are now allowed to return to team facilities and work out together in small groups. The Blue Jackets are among those:
For Columbus, Group A includes forwards Nyquist and Bjorkstrand, defensemen Jones and Peeke, and Kivlenieks in net, with assistant coach Brad Larsen to join next week. Group B, which skated this afternoon, features forwards Riley Nash and Liam Foudy, defenseman Scott Harrington, and goalie Elvis Merzlikins, who will be joined by assistant coach Kenny McCudden and goaltending coach Manny Legace.
After that, the next step is training camp. The NHL announced that camps would start on July 10. Obviously, some teams may not be able to start that soon if the full roster isn’t in place or if local restrictions prohibit it.
NHL-NHLPA agree that Phase 3 training camps will open July 10 but that both sides still have to negotiate Phase 4 (games, protocol, hub cities) so start date on the 24-team tournament still TBD https://t.co/HFDrm08g2j— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 11, 2020
To give players enough time to update their visa paperwork (for some, those visas would be set to expire on June 30, and need to be extended to the new end date for the league calendar) and to allow time for quarantining (Canada still requires a 14 day quarantine for those entering the country), Elliotte Friedman reports that those players have been encouraged to return to their team’s city by June 21.
Finally, the NHL has to determine which two cities will serve as “hubs” for the competition. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the announcement will come a week from today, June 22. It is believed that Vegas will be one of the hubs, with the other being in Canada - most likely Toronto. Per Chris Johnston, the latter selection may change if Canada does not waive their quarantine rule. I must confess that a big part of my enthusiasm for the Return to Play plan was the prospect that Columbus would be chosen as the Eastern Conference hub. While we would not be able to attend, it would at least be an economic boon for the hotels and restaurants in downtown and the Arena District.
So, this incremental progress gets my hopes up, but of course player safety remains paramount. As states begin to reopen, we’re seeing the number of cases rise again. If that trend continues, it could put Return to Play in jeopardy.
The week that was
Cam Atkinson’s virtual 5k raised over $40,000! That’s great work by Columbus fans. Did any of our readers participate? Let us know in the comments if you did.
Thank you to everyone who donated to and completed the #FNF5K. Together we raised over $40k to buy a rapid COVID-19 testing machine for @ohiohealth Riverside Methodist Hospital #inthistogetherohio pic.twitter.com/XqGAmwHP7J— Cam Atkinson (@CamAtkinson13) June 7, 2020
I’ve really enjoyed listening to the most recent episodes of the Cannon Cast. First, Patrick Williams joined the pod to discuss the state of the AHL. He talks about how it has changed since he started covering it, and what the future holds. Last week, the gang discussed players and activism on social media. I’m especially proud that Episode 69 published on 6/9.
Speaking of AHL, Elaine published a series of interviews with Monsters players and coaches. First she spoke with coach Mike Eaves and rookie Trey Fix-Wolansky to recap their first season in Cleveland. Then there were previously unpublished interviews with Aaron Palushaj and Liam Foudy discussing their first AHL goals, and Derek Barach describing the transition from college hockey to the AHL.
Play me out
The best comedy currently on TV may well be FX’s What We Do In the Shadows. Based on the Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit)/Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) mockumentary film of the same name, the show follows the daily lives of four vampires who have been living on State Island for over a hundred years. Season 2 just finished this week, and all episodes can be viewed on Hulu. As Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall noted in his recap this week, “what a blessed respite its brand of stupid silliness has been throughout this nightmarish spring in America.”
A pleasant surprise over the last two weeks is learning that co-star Matt Berry has a second career as a singer/songwriter. This is no comedy novelty act; these are love songs with catchy Britpop melodies. This one served as the theme song to his British sitcom, Toast of London (which can be seen on Netflix).