It’s anyone’s guess how the quality of hockey will look in one week.
The NHL’s return to play qualifying round and round-robin tournament begin next weekend, and teams will have only gotten three full weeks of practice in from the time Phase 3 began to the start of games.
And since the NHL determined it was starting back up, there were two main concerns: Will the quality of play be good, and will players be more at risk of injury?
As it relates to the caliber of play, Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand has his expectations tempered.
“I think it’s going to be really sloppy, the hockey, to be honest with you,” Marchand said Saturday, via Zoom. “I just — we’ve been off for four, five months, or whatever it’s been. It takes more than a couple weeks to get it all back and get to the top of your game. And the ice conditions are not going to be good in the middle of summer. So I just don’t think it’s going to be great hockey, but we’re all gonna be in the same playing field, and we’ve all had the same amount of time to get ready, we’re just going to have to battle it out regardless of situation. It’s still going to be intense, it’s going to be hard-fought. There’s going to be some nice plays, but it should be a little choppy, especially to start.”
Teams will get an exhibition game in before the contests that matter start, with the Bruins taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Still, it’s probably safe to say it might take a little time for teams to really get going.
Here are some other notes from Saturday.
–Zdeno Chara has seen a lot in his two decades of service to the NHL, but he’s in a unique position right now — and certainly one he hasn’t needed to tackle in his time with the Bruins.
Chara is a pending unrestricted free agent, and he just turned 43-years-old. Since he started playing on one-year deals, Chara’s contract situation usually is taken care of in March, but COVID-19 obviously impeded that from happening.
During his media availability Saturday morning, Chara addressed his future, and it sounds like he isn’t paying much mind to anything other than the business in front of the Bruins once they get to Toronto.
And one of his longest-tenured teammates, Marchand, explained why Chara retiring after this season feels unlikely.
— Saturday marked the Bruins’ final day of practice in Boston, and they won’t return to Warrior Ice Arena until next season.
As for practice itself, the Bruins had five absences: Ondrej Kase, David Pastrnak, Nick Ritchie, Paul Carey and Dan Vladar.
Kase and Pastrnak are not a total surprise, as Bruins president Cam Neely on Wednesday made clear that both might not practice until the team arrived in Toronto.
And while Ritchie has missed three straight practices now, head coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t sound overly concerned about his availability.
Kase, on the other hand, is a different story.
Cassidy indicated he expects Pastrnak and Ritchie to travel with the team to Toronto on Sunday, but he’s unsure if Kase will be on the team charter.
— With the folks who were available, Cassidy did what he could to put lines together.
Anders Bjork skated in Pastrnak’s spot on the first line right wing, while Jack Studnicka slotted in behind him on the second line. Karson Kuhlman occupied the third.
You can check out the full lines and pairings from Saturday’s session here.
— The Bruins’ flight to Toronto leaves Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m. ET. The Bruins aren’t scheduled to practice nor address the media on Sunday.
— And, finally, here are the highlights from Saturday’s skate.
Highlights from today's Bruins practice — the last at Warrior Ice Arena until next season.
Video via the Bruins. pic.twitter.com/vb8SCDOK31
— Logan Mullen (@ByLoganMullen) July 25, 2020
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports