"Let me give you a scenario and see if you could live with it.
The NHL decides it is safe for its players to resume playing, but not necessarily O.K. for fans to enter arenas to watch. Instead, the league opts to essentially turn their sport into a television studio event, like a soap opera.
You can watch, but there’s no studio audience as would be the case with, say, a game show. You can’t come inside. You can’t interact with the players. No signs asking for pucks. No dancing for the video board above center ice. No music to groove to.
How about this? The NHL hosts regional playoffs at neutral site cities. The Eastern Conference’s first and second rounds are played in Ottawa, the Western Conference plays in Minneapolis-St. Paul. But you still wouldn’t be able to attend.
Would you take either of those options? Or would you insist that no hockey be played until everyone could once again partake of the entire experience and be allowed inside their home team’s building?
I know what my answer would be. Give me the studio version of the NHL, including the playoffs. As long as every team’s game is shown for free in some fashion, I’m in.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly gave a frank assessment of the situation the other day when he told NHL.com the league is monitoring the coronavirus situation on a daily basis with medical and health officials and it will not resume the season until it is safe for the players, coaches, and officials to participate. Even the medical and science experts can’t predict when things will take a turn for the better.
Social distancing doesn’t exist on the ice. Players are engaged in a contact sport. This isn’t like a Public Service Announcement I saw the other day in which New York Rangers legend and Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert told New Yorkers to keep a hockey stick’s length from each other as a way to properly socially distance themselves from each other. Frankly, I thought Gilbert should have borrowed Zdeno Chara’s stick for the PSA. It would have been a more effective visual.
Nonetheless, that’s not realistic in any kind of hockey game. Even a group of Mites playing are going to make contact with each other. So the NHL is absolutely right to make sure it’s safe for the players to compete against each other before it resumes its season.
The fans are a different story. You can play hockey games without people in the stands. And that’s why the NHL might want to rethink the idea of going right back into its arenas while the coronavirus is impacting the country.
Thursday, radio host Brian Blessing and I talked on his show Vegas Hockey Hotline about the idea of playing games in practice facilities until it’s safe to let people inside the arenas. Many teams have very nice places to practice, with the Golden Knights’ City National Arena arguably the NHL’s best.
Photo credit to Benjamin Hager of Las Vegas Review Journal
There are places to set up television cameras, the Vegas Golden Knights already have their locker room. The visiting team’s quarters could be UNLV’s locker room. It would be spartan by NHL standards but when the Knights went to the other team’s place, they would deal with it too.
As for the rink itself, it reminds me of the scene in the movie Hoosiers when Gene Hackman took out the tape measure at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and told his team, “You’ll find these are the exact same measurements as our gym back home.” The ice at CNA is the exact same size as T-Mobile Arena — 200 by 85 feet. And if it means playing in July, the quality of the ice stands a better chance of holding up in a smaller building with fewer people inside it.
Since the Knights own the building, they can play whenever they want. It can be 11 a.m. or 9 p.m. They don’t have to worry about working around events like concerts. They’d just be at the mercy of the TV networks, which would undoubtedly call the shots when it came to setting the time for the puck drop.
Remember, only 18,000 plus can get inside the Fortress. Everyone else would be forced to watch on TV anyway. So why not turn City National into a TV studio?
There would be residual benefits to the community if fans couldn’t watch inside T-Mobile. You could have watch parties, if Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak deemed it acceptable, at bars and restaurants, thus pumping some much-needed money into the local economy. You’d be able to place wagers on the games if you so desired, which would help the sportsbook industry. For those fortunate to be able to land playoff tickets, you’d save a few thousand dollars that you could put toward next year’s season tickets or save some of it to buy that VGK gold third jersey next season.
Yes, those employees who work on game nights would be impacted. But the team could extend its relief efforts if it chose to in order to help those folks who would not be allowed to work.
There has been discussion of the NBA moving its playoffs to Las Vegas. That could work given the available facilities for basketball. Between T-Mobile Arena, the MGM Grand Garden, Mandalay Bay Events Center, Thomas & Mack Center, the Orleans Arena and Cox Pavilion, there are enough facilities to stage a basketball game.
Hockey doesn’t enjoy that luxury. There aren’t enough rinks in Las Vegas to host an entire round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, unless you played all day and night at the Fortress. Plus, if the NHL entertained such a notion of having one or two cities host the entire playoffs, there are cities far better equipped to do so than Las Vegas, hotel capacity notwithstanding. Vegas has that over most towns.
But I know for some of you that won’t be good enough. You’re going to want to watch in person. You’ve invested thousands of dollars in this team and it’s almost a God-given right in your mind that you be allowed to go through the security screening, grab your poster for that night’s game and sit in your seat. I completely get it.
However, if it’s between having hockey in some form late this spring and early summer or no hockey until the fall, would you really still insist on being allowed in to watch Marc-Andre Fleury?
I didn’t think so.
Besides, if the Knights managed to shut out the other team, I’m sure you could still get your donuts the next day."
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