So far, so good.
With the NHL’s restart *officially* set to begin Saturday, we probably can classify the first week in the hubs as a success.
There have been no outbreaks of COVID-19, which, of course, is the chief concern. And over the course of 12 scrimmages, we’ve gotten a look at what the upcoming weeks and months have in store.
So here are a few takeaways.
— The arenas look great. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect going into it, but putting covers over the seats made things look more like a setup for an international tournament instead of a pandemic-caused crowdless NHL postseason. There was understandable concern that the lack of fans might make for a weird viewing experience, but it didn’t feel that way in the scrimmages.
It also was a nice touch by the league to allow teams to bring things that add a bit of home to the hubs, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning bringing a piece of glass that they had a bunch of fans sign.
— In a similar vein, the piped in noise sounded pretty good. There was a decent-enough buzz without it being too much, and while there’s no replacing actual crowd noise, it was satisfactory. One has to think some of the kinks will be worked out over time.
— The ice conditions appeared to be decent-enough, though not perfect. Playing as many as three games a day in the summer in the same arena really is going to test the crews, but not having the body heat of 18 thousand fans might help. But who knows how it will fare after weeks of multiple games on the same surface.
— With respect to the quality of play, no one really knew what to expect from the scrimmages, but we were pleased with the level of intensity. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been too surprising that teams would take it seriously, seeing as it was the only game action teams were getting before the start of the qualifying round. But the objective for everyone seemed to be to get their legs under them and not get hurt.
— Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand indicated he thought that the quality of play would be sloppy, and there certainly was some of that in the scrimmages. It was apparent that some were struggling to make plays in tight and on the walls, and there was a little more stone to some hands than usual. This just underscores the notion that the team that can ramp up quickest probably will have the most success — which might be the biggest reason we get some series upsets.
— The success of the NBA in keeping guys healthy in the bubble bodes well for the NHL. By all accounts it seems that the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles really are secure, so the league must be looking at what’s happening with basketball — which is being held in a hotspot state, no less — and be encouraged at the chances of actually pulling this off.
Here are some other notes from this week.
— It was tough not to wonder how much business would get done in the hubs.
Very little, it turns out. At least so far.
The only transactions to go down this week: Anders Bjork and the Bruins agreeing to a three-year extension, the Predators signing Anthony Richard to a one-year, two way extension (he’s not even on the team’s travelling roster) and, finally, the Ducks (who aren’t one of the 24 teams returning to play) giving Sonny Milano a two-year extension.
So, really, the only transaction of note was the extension for Bjork, who was set to hit restricted free agency this summer.
The cap figure for next season now is set, and while teams are gearing up for playoff games, there’s also a lot of downtime, and general managers, in many cases, are with their teams. If a player wants to talk contract, presumably they’d just have to get their agent on FaceTime and off they go — though that might be an oversimplification.
But with games starting Saturday, this week figured to be the only time guys would talk money. It appears few decided to go that route.
— Maybe this is going too far out on a limb, but it seems like the result of the Rangers-Hurricanes series largely will be dependent on the availability, or lack thereof, of Dougie Hamilton.
What we do know is that he’s out for Game 1. Beyond that, it’s unclear.
“We would hope (he’ll play in the series), but we’re certainly not going to rush him back,” Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour indicated, via NHL.com. “But if he’s close to being able to play he’s going to get in there. We know the importance of having him in the lineup. That’s a huge, huge loss for us, so we want to get him back in there ASAP.”
Hamilton played almost exclusively with Jaccob Slavin, and while Slavin is good enough to handle himself regardless of partner, he understandably benefits from the presence of Hamilton, who was in the early Norris Trophy conversation before he fractured his fibula in January.
The Rangers know how to score, and they played the Hurricanes really well this season, going 4-0, so maybe it isn’t too far-fetched to say the series hinges on Hamilton’s health.
— A shameless plug here to wrap things up.
Over the last few weeks, myself, Lauren Campbell and Mike Cole have had at least one piece of preview content up a day. Some of it is Boston Bruins specific, others relate to the league as a whole. With games set to begin this weekend, get caught up on quite literally everything you need to know: all of the Bruins stories you can find here, while the general NHL ones are here.