'Optimism' still there for NHL as big decisions loom for Bruins, league

Joe Haggerty
NBC Sports Boston

Could progress slowly be coming for the eventual return of the NHL?

That's certainly a viable question given the developments of the last few days across the entire sports world. The sight of the UFC holding a sporting event that seemed to go off without a hitch combined with Florida and Arizona pronouncing themselves open for major league sports business provides at least some food for NHL thought.

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Certainly, nobody is talking about starting things up tomorrow, this weekend or even next week as coronavirus outbreak numbers still spike in urban areas across the middle part of the United States. But there are pockets within North America where states are moving ahead with phases to re-open businesses and quasi-normal activity, and it feels like there's a timeline in place to get hockey players back skating amongst themselves toward the end of this month.

Even hot spot areas like New York City and Boston have seen some level of progress when it comes to slowly pushing things back to a new normal. Things could look a lot different in those areas within a few weeks.  

Some of it is about progress toward whatever the aforementioned "new normal" is going to be with COVID-19 not going anywhere until there's a vaccine and rapid, universal testing along with a greater acceptance of mask-wearing across our culture.

Some of the wheel-turning is also about a requirement that hockey players be on the ice for close to a month before a season could even begin to resume action. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara estimated earlier this week that it would take 3-4 weeks of skating for NHL players to get back into game shape, and that timeline has not even begun at this point with players still away from the ice and quarantined at home.

Certainly, the Bruins players are still optimistic and hopeful the 2019-20 season will resume with some kind of resolution for a hockey club that reached 100 points on the season before things were put on pause.   

"There's lots of talk of it. We're hoping and praying there's a chance at some point. The virus is going to run its course," said Nick Ritchie, during a Zoom video conference call on Wednesday with Bruins reporters. "This has been a lot longer than I thought it might be at the beginning, but hopefully we'll be able to get back. I think it will be an adjustment for everybody when we do get back.

We all want to play again. There's been a lot of that talk for months and weeks, and they're obviously trying to get there. There are a lot of obstacles in the way. But I'm looking forward to it and think it will happen. But there are no guarantees obviously.

The NHL has been on pause since March 12, shortly after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus and has not yet moved into Phase 2 of its return strategy when NHL players might begin to skate in groups of 3-4 people at NHL facilities. That may happen in the next few weeks, but there are still important considerations about ample testing and the exact strategy for re-starting the season, whether it's with the conclusion of the regular season or a 24-team playoff tournament and exactly what the safety protocols are going to be when hockey players do begin ramping up.

NHL Deputy Commission Bill Daly said this week that there is "optimism" about finishing off the hockey season, presumably over the summer, and that's at least something to build off with nothing set in concrete as of yet for the National Hockey League.

"We haven't even moved into our contemplated Phase 2 yet. So until we do that and, from there, we have training camp, I think it's a little bit too early to be handicapping when we might be playing games," said Daly to The Athletic.

In other good news, it looks like the NHL is going to make a decision on its amateur draft over the next two weeks after sending out a May 1 memo to all 31 NHL owners outlining why still holding the draft in June made a lot of business sense for the league.

Even a fraction of the media attention that the NFL Draft received last month would be a home run for the league with almost nothing going on for live sports entertainment right now.

Once decisions start getting made about the NHL Draft and moving into Phase 2 of hockey's return, things could start happening a little more rapidly. However, we're still all dealing with hypotheticals and hope with a return to hockey at least a healthy six full weeks away at this point. 

But hope isn't necessarily a bad thing right now.  

'Optimism' still there for NHL as big decisions loom for Bruins, league originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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