No, Hockey's Not Back

I hate to be a Debbie Downer but people really need to pump the breaks on the "Hockey's back!" shit. Because brackets with logos get a sports-deprived populace hard/wet, people over-reacted to the news that the NHLPA voted 29-2 to approve the 24-team Return To Play format. In reality, it was a mere formality, as this excellent piece from Michael Russo explains.

“We voted strictly on the format,” Dubnyk said. “In other words, ‘If we are to come back, this is how it’s going to be played.’ But we have not even touched on logistics or cities or travel or testing or how the economics will work or what this quarantine bubble (the players are) supposed to live in will be like or any of that stuff yet.

“Nothing else has been voted on … yet.”

Again, yet is the operative word.

Dubnyk made clear that another vote will “absolutely” be necessary by the players once all these details are negotiated between the NHL and NHLPA.

“I think it’s really important to start having these conversations with as many players as we can about, ‘Guys, what scenarios are we OK with?’” Dubnyk said. “From what it sounds like, it’s going to be some sort of hub city scenario, so we’ve got to talk about that. How long are guys OK with being away for? When we are in this city, are we locked in our hotel room? Going from the hotel room to the rink and back only, are guys OK with just doing that? Can our families come with us, or if there’s a family emergency and we leave the bubble (to go back into society), can we return to the bubble or are we done? What’s the food situation? Like, can we only eat in our hotel rooms? How often are we tested? Who pays for that? What’s the damage economically to the sport?

“All of these things, and there’s so many variables, need to be talked about and we’ve got to start getting a grasp on it now so that it doesn’t just hit us in the face all of a sudden. This stuff hasn’t been discussed with the players. Everything’s just been so hypothetical. So that’s what I’m hoping is going to come out of this now because we don’t want a situation where it seems like, ‘OK, everybody’s ready to go, let’s get back and play,’ and then all of a sudden guys are like, ‘Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. I’m not OK with that.’ And then it goes from like super-positive to super-negative. So that’s why we’ve got to talk about everything, and then have a vote once and for all.”

Dubnyk bluntly explains the myriad issues that still lie ahead for the NHL and NHLPA. There's a lot and they're large and things can get complex pretty quick. Here's an excellent deep dive into some of those issues on RussianMachineNeverBreaks. It's not as simple as slapping up an imperfect play-in bracket that looks cool during what should be the Conference Finals and gets people excited (are guys really gonna go all out in a 'top four round-robin for irrelevant seeding' that has 'torn ACL by superstar' written all over it?). 

Also worth noting is that the players have received all but one paycheck of their '19-'20 salaries (they're still waiting to see how things shake out). Their salaries for the year are essentially paid. So the only financial incentive for them is playoff bonuses which can range anywhere from $13K up to $200K. With the addition of the play-in series, one assumes those numbers would drop a bit. So if you're a player, the short view question you have to ask yourself if you want to put yourself into quarantine life to the extreme through three weeks of training camp then play in an empty arena for just playoff bonuses but you also have a chance to win the Stanley Cup? I suspect the majority of the players would be down for that so that they can play hockey and have a shot at the Cup.

The long view takes revenue into account. Even if they play, they already lost the playoff gate, which is fucking huge. If there's no playoffs, that means no TV money. And no TV money affects the cap which affects a player's future salary. We might just find out how close a vote on that would be. 

But like the end of the 2012-13 lockout, Dubnyk thinks there’s a good possibility that the executive board will want to call on a full-member vote of 700-plus players.

“There’s certain times when it’s not as important to have 700-plus voices, but this is a scenario where we need to hear from as many players as we possibly can,” Dubnyk said, “and those conversations are going to start to happen very soon here with small group conversations. Then, as an executive board, we can decide if we feel this needs to be an entire union vote with 700 players. We can do that. It rarely happens, but this might be a case where it should.

“There’s so much uncertainty with everything that’s gone on in the world and different guys feel different ways when it comes to return to play and health and safety,” Dubnyk said. “It’s difficult because in the past I’ve always had good confidence in voting on things and knowing that I was voting for what the guys would want. In this scenario, it’s hard because a lot of stuff is split down the middle or very close.

“Like, one question a lot of players have is the revenue thing. How much revenue are we getting from coming back and playing versus how much money are we spending on all these things that need to happen for this to happen – all the hotels, the food, the testing. These are a lot of expenses, so is it worth it?”

The idea of a "bubble" also raised concerns for players.

In other words, if the players are isolated in one or two hotels in a hub city, wouldn’t it defeat the purpose if chefs, waiters and waitresses, hotel clerks and engineers, and housekeepers go home to their families and then return to the bubble? At arenas where fans likely won’t get to attend at least the majority of the playoffs, what about the dozens of people that are needed to make a game happen that go beyond team personnel, from television crews, broadcasters and reporters, to custodial staffs, NHL off-ice officials and technicians?

“Personally, that’s why I wonder if this is going to truly happen unless things relax enough where that bubble doesn’t necessarily need to exist as tightly as we think it does right now,” Dubnyk said. “Even with the players, it’s like, if your wife’s having a baby or something and you have to leave, do I have to miss an entire series now or suddenly quarantine for two weeks?

“That’s why I just feel like it doesn’t seem feasible to make this happen unless those rules relax by the time we’re going to play later this summer. There’s just so much stuff that hasn’t been figured out yet that we’ve got to start figuring out what are we OK with or not OK with, and then once that’s discussed, have another vote.

“But, at least things are becoming more real now, which is exciting for us and the fans. Because let’s be honest, everybody wants to play. But you’re asking a lot of guys to come back and do this in a strange scenario, so it’s got to be safe, make sense and be worth it.”

Yes I want hockey back, too. Been going to games since the womb (literally). It would also be very good for my livelihood. No doy. And I'd love nothing more than the NHL Playoffs owning every night in July and August/September going forward. But I'm not gonna delude myself into getting excited when we're at step 2 out of 1,087 steps. If not more.

There's just so much shit yet to be figured out. So many logistics and 'what if?s'. When I look at the calendar and realize just how much is still unplanned, I wonder if there may just come a point where the league, the union, or both decide that the juice just ain't worth the squeeze.

But today? Hockey's a long from back.