Chances are, if the NHL can return to action for 2019-20 in some form, it won’t leave everyone happy. Doing so sounds borderline impossible. With that in mind, it’s interesting to gain some perspective from different players in different situations, including Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal.
Both Carlson and Staal focus on family regarding possible NHL return
Carlson, 30, and Staal, 35, are both veteran players (each with a Stanley Cup ring) who are in different positions in their careers. Their teams are in different situations, too.
Yet, if there’s a unifying factor for Staal and Carlson regarding an NHL return, it’s the importance of family.
Carlson spoke with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” about what really worries him about COVID-19. To Carlson, it’s not as much of a worry about contracting the virus. Instead, Carlson’s more concerned about possibly spreading the infection to a family member less equipped to handle such an illness.
While Carlson seems worried about how interacting with family and friends might go, it sounds like Staal is more concerned about a lack of interaction.
The pandemic pause allowed Eric Staal to support close family while a member sadly lost a battle with cancer. Being isolated from loved ones in a “hub city” setup would be a challenge for Staal, who has a wife and three kids.
“To me, family is everything,” Staal told Dan Myers of the Wild website. “It was good for me to be there for my wife and my kids and my mother-in-law. Playing definitely is a little more challenging with travel and being there in moments, but with everything that’s gone on, we were able to do that and go through that grieving process.”
Both understand the challenges facing the league
Staal spoke of the NHL having “so many hoops, so many hurdles” to get through to make it all work.
“I think this is really hard to see how this is going to finish,” Staal said. “But I know they are still trying to game-plan it and figure it out. We’ll see. They’ll make decisions as time moves on.”
As PHT noted earlier on Thursday, the NHL and NHLPA are reportedly discussing a 24-team playoff format that would include both the Capitals and Wild (their teams in italics):
Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)
3. Golden Knights
Oilers (5) vs. Blackhawks (12)
Predators (6) vs. Coyotes (11)
Canucks (7) vs. Wild (10)
Flames (8) vs. Jets (9)
In the event that such a format would be approved, the Capitals would play through preliminary games while awaiting the winner of Hurricanes vs. Rangers. The Wild would hope to beat the Canucks in a play-in series, then face the Avalanche.
Of course, a lot can change with that format, and other factors.
Regardless, Carlson shared his thoughts on that idea, admitting that 24 teams sounded like a lot. One would think that some of the higher-seeded teams would agree. Interestingly, while Taylor Hall would naturally love for his Coyotes to play meaningful games, Hall also told Tirico that he’d understand if the NHL instead went with a format such as 20 teams.
(You can learn more about Carlson’s feelings in the video above this post’s headline.)
Carlson, Staal, and others seem willing to work with the NHL, ultimately
While Carlson appeared hesitant about a 24-team format, he also didn’t seem rigid, acknowledging that “logistics” might trump his concerns about the ideal competitive situation.
Can the NHL find the right mix between balancing concerns from those like Carlson and Staal, while also avoiding critics calling it a “COVID Cup,” as Matt Duchene fears? It doesn’t sound like an easy task, but at least players seem willing to work toward solutions.
• Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
• NHL hopes extended U.S.-Canada border closing won’t hurt return to play chances
• NHL may skip rest of regular season, jump to 24-team playoff format
• Crosby also worried about integrity of games, prefers 24-team format to “March Madness” style
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.