Could the IceRays Suspension Start a Lower Division Trend??

On Monday, the Corpus Christi IceRays suspended operations for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID pandemic and the concern for their team, fans, families, and the like. The positive cases in Nueces County is probably a cause of this, with 18,000 positive cases and 303 deaths; while also having severe outbreaks at living facilities and even the Houston Astros’ alternate site.

While this might usually go to my Clutch And Crab Hockey blog since it’s about the NAHL, this is something that could be the first of several teams making the tough decision to shutter down for the 2020-21 hockey season. Not just because of the ramifications of COVID, but also the uncertainty of the border opening for some leagues and differing regulations from state-to-state in regards to people needing to quarantine before being able to move about the area freely.

For the vast majority of minor league and junior teams, the box office is the biggest contributor for survival. Depending upon the regulations for the area, I would not be shocked to see more of these announcements coming out and leading to a big shuffle for teams and leagues to change schedules and for parent team– finding a spot for their prospective players. You see some NHL teams loaning out prospects to European clubs.

Could there be an off-chance that league make some kind of bubble season?? It’s an outside chance, sure. You have to think that they’d need to find a locale that could handle that sort of thing and then figure out logistics for it. Whether it looks like the NHL bubble or the MLS’ round-robin type tournament, a kind of season or tournament could be had for players and leagues to stay up and running; though it wouldn’t bring in as much money for the team or leagues that they would have hoped…it’d be at least something so they wouldn’t need to shut down for another season and have to deal with being without an end to two seasons of play.

Even with these measures, you never know what teams could still opt out because it’s not in the best interest of the team or community or anyone involved. That’s always a fear for some teams to get into a bubble and then have issues arise that set them back a little more than just opting out. We’re headed for a very odd time for lower division hockey, mostly because they are community based and provide a service to their area and should have a civil duty to help protect their community. Because of that duty, you’d have to think we’ll hear more suspension of operations due to playing not being in the best interest of the team and the area due to this pandemic.

A Look Back at the Qualifiers

The NHL’s first attempt at a Qualifier Round in the Hub Bubble was a success, regardless of how your team finished. The idea of a 24-team playoffs as the “new normal” began to have a little traction, especially with Barry Trotz speaking up about it. The downside to this would be the length of the season, of course. Unless teams vote to knock off 10 games to the regular season in lieu of those playoff games, the 24-team concept will be a one-and-done situation. Of course, playoff tickets do outweigh regular season ones; so teams who consistently make the playoffs could be swayed by that extra revenue; whilst the constant also-rans will hate to have five home games taken from them.

It’s hard to argue that it’s a novel concept– a qualifier of some sort with the top-four teams battling out to reshuffle the top positions. Though, some of the top teams would cry foul if they did get that top spot to have a better advantage in the playoffs, only to lose that spot when it came to the actual playoffs starting– much like how the Bruins lost their top spot because of their subpar play in the round-robin.

Granted, it’s not to say that getting the top spot will assure victory. We saw with the Oilers and the Penguins that just because you’re facing the weakest-seeded team, it doesn’t really mean the top team will get out in front. In fact, four of the eight qualifiers saw the lower seed winning, with Chicago, Montreal, and Arizona being below the 10-seed and still advancing.

A bugaboo for me was the statistics of it all. I don’t understand how the round-robin games count as playoffs games when the OT structure was that of the regular season. It’s not as if they were in any kind of series structure to it, so why would they count as playoff games??

The bubble concept has been great for people, especially since you can’t have fans in the arena, the time teams play is very flexible and creates all-hockey, all-the-time on the networks. We’d have to assume, however, when people are allowed back into the arenas, this will be a thing of the past. You’d actually have to choose between a number of games rather than just sit down and have them come one right after another.

Unsung to these games is the ice crew, who have been amazing in the bubble with the ability to keep the ice as good as can be with three games playing at a time, while also making sure they had the correct local ads on the boards for the “home” team and their regional broadcast. Not only that, but the game operation folks have been tremendous with their humor to the in-game presentations.

This was a good trial run to see how the length of a qualifier, coupled with how to spread out the games. If the NHL does start to scratch their chins about the idea of a consistent 24-team playoffs, then they can pretty much push to this in order to determine the success and failure. Only issue would be doing it across multiple sites and not just one or two.

Overall, the qualifying round proved to be a nice re-introduction to most people for hockey and the playoffs, which will hopefully carry over into the actually playoffs when they start on Tuesday.

Bubble Hockey Schedule Hypes My Hockey Enjoyment

The Bubble Hockey Playoff is going to sour me from playoff hockey the rest of my life.

The NHL has hit it out of the park with the Hub Cities idea and honestly, the way they’ve formatted the schedule so that there’s very few overlapping games, allowing fans to not have to choose between games has been remarkable. To be able to start at noon ET and then it end beyond midnight is just a wet dream for hockey fans, but it also allows all the teams in the play-in to have center stage and put themselves on display. For many of these teams, it’s a big chance to show off what some people may be missing because they don’t get this kind of platform.

Unfortunately, this won’t be happening every playoff because the revenue that the games create is needed for the league to survive, blah-blah-blah– I don’t care. This is the perfect format for hockey to be seen, especially when it comes to getting interest in the game. With it constantly being on the NBC family of networks, it’s hard to avoid the games and the sports with that kind of reach. Let’s be honest, if not for other contracts, you’d have to think that NBCSN would be just 12-hours of hockey for their network.

To be quite honest, I don’t know if I miss the fans in attendance. Atmosphere does count for something and it’s a big talking point during the games. But at the same time, if it’s teams I have no stake in; I couldn’t care less about how the atmosphere is in the arena– it’s not like they can keep it up for all 60 minutes of game time. I’m sure I’ll be tired of hearing the “What could this ‘home’ team do if they had their fans to charge them up” narrative, but such as life.

At first I thought it’d be dreadful to deal with an empty arena– but the NHL and their broadcast partners in NBC and Rogers have done very well. Not only that, the arena workers (who should get more money for this) are doing a great job keeping the ice in as good of a condition as possible, while also quick-changing the advertising around the board depending upon the home team and what they’ve sold for the games. I honestly can’t say that I notice too much– whether that be because the game presentation is the same (if not better with other caveats they’ve put in) or the crowd noise pumped in and video messages being shown; but I like this more now than I would have in a normal playoff.

That said, I don’t know if I could deal with this year-in and year-out, but there’s something to be said about this atmosphere in the bubble and the amount of hockey you get in one day because of the staggered scheduling. I’m quite enjoying how it’s been plan and how it’s been executed– let’s just see if I still feel that way in October when it’s over with.

More Timelines Coming Into Focus for Hockey Season 2020-21

As leagues start to set their target dates for their own reboot, John Hoven of SiriusXM dropped a little tidbit about the AHL that kind of caught my eye and it wasn’t until a second reading that it struck me.

An opt-in/out deadline.

It’s not insane to think of this being a thing, especially since we’ve seen that traveling for sports hasn’t paid off the best dividends so far. However, the biggest thing is the chain reaction this could make overall for teams and their affiliates.

As it stands, about one-third of the AHL is independently owned from their NHL affiliate, so those would be the ones that would be hurt the most with no fans in the arena, which could mean they would be more apt to opt-out for the season rather than take a bigger financial loss by operating without any money to counteract it.

For an entire season, a bubble situation doesn’t seem very viable, as the logistics as it is for the playoffs is pushing the capacity of the ice makers– albeit summer is much different than winter for humidity and all of that. Still, the availability of a location and the stir-craziness that could come from that would most likely be detrimental to the players for an entire season.

There’s plenty of iron out in a short time as they have a week before a vote is put forth, if we are to believe this timeline is true. With the SPHL announcing their plans to restart, you have to think that the rest of the minor leagues will start to make moves– especially with the NHL putting their timeline out there and now the AHL kind of lining up with the same; the ECHL will probably be in that same boat. Should be interesting to see in the next coming weeks.

On the Topic Of NHL’s Bubble Hockey

As we creep closer and closer to the bubble of the NHL being a real thing and the 2019-20 season resuming, there’s a lot to take in. Here’s my thoughts that no one asked for on a whole lot of them.

First, and probably most importantly, is the health aspect of it. Bill Daly has always said that one or two tests won’t spark a complete stoppage, but what is the magic number?? Especially as you get teams into the bubble and they start to intermingle with each other, there’s a slight possibility of positive testings. Could there be a chance that the virus could wipe out a team’s playoff hopes once they get to the bubble; much like it did to some MLS team?? It’s all up to the league and teams to actually be beyond strict with maintaining the bubble and isolating anyone who may seem to be down with the sickness. That said, the numbers coming out of the NBA bubble are a sign of the bubble process working, even with two positive tests coming from the NHL side.

Second, the latest one of the five-second delay in the broadcast that’ll happen and some people are upset about. Understandable to be upset, especially when most people got hyped when HBO had “The Road to the Winter Classic” and everyone heard all the swear words. As much as I like the swearing in the midst of a game, I don’t know if I need to hear it constantly on the ice during the playoffs. It starts to lose it’s luster after a while– plus, these guys are cliche with their post-game comments; I’m sure they’ll be as plain with their cursing chirps, as well.

Third, can this lead to extended playoff fields?? Sure, we all know that the NHL has more than half their league currently making the playoffs. But for owners, the playoffs are solid money and for the league, that’s more hockey related revenue for the business. The question then becomes if owners will want to drop up to four home regular season dates for that to happen. Playoffs aren’t always a given, but with a new model in more teams making it– that’s where owners can raise the price, more teams can have playoff appearances, and a shorter regular season can finally happen.

Fourth, and the final one for now: the eeriness of the empty arena. We know, the teams are looking for cringe cell phone footage from fans to play in the arena to liven it up; but it’s not going to be continuous. I’m shocked with how the EA Sports team hold the rights to the video game franchise hasn’t said they’ll help pump in some faux crowd noise. However, is it going to make a bit of a difference to the players?? Is it something they’ll actually enjoy?? Is this their perfect playing situation, despite about what they say about the league’s fan base??

On the Topic Of Return to Play

Vancouver Canucks practice PRE-shutdown

We’re in the Return to Play era of the 2019-20 season and we couldn’t be more conflicted with how things should be handled. There’s a group of people who think this is a good idea, something we needs, and a distraction. There’s a group that’s want the season to end, have concern for the player’s health, and don’t care for distractions in these trying times.

Not going to lie, but I’m on the fence of both.

Overall, the NHL has seemingly done a lot to make sure testing is accessible, players and staff who do test positive are isolated quickly, and want to make sure when they get into the bubbles; they’re safer than they would be if they weren’t in a bubble.

The biggest thing is this training camp to bubble time, where the NHL hopes that the players self-isolate and not get into health trouble like how reports are circulating about the St. Louis Blues had a get-together and had multiple positive cases after.

After three-plus months of isolation, you could expect that there would be positive cases in the absence of a vaccine. People aren’t intertwined with people outside of who they isolated with, so they’ll have to build an immunity to it without a vaccine. It really shouldn’t shock everyone, but that’s where the “Shut the Season” people lose me because one or two positive tests aren’t an alarm for shutting the whole thing down.

That’s where the opt-out comes in and good on the players who have opted out for putting their health first or because they didn’t feel like they’d be in peak condition or wanted to travel and then not play at all. The NHL gave them that option, teams on the surface are giving two thumbs up to the players making that decision, and most of the fans are understanding in why these players are doing it.

Where the real lookout is going to be is two weeks from today. By all accounts, the C19 takes a two-week period for positives to come through, if not sooner. With all the players back in full, the look at testing and the results will be under a bigger microscope. While the NHL has said that a rash of positives aren’t going to bury the season from their point of view, you have to wonder if public and/or sponsor pressure (brought on by the public or by their own accord) would be something that torpedoes the season.

However, you have to look to NASCAR to see a small sample of how to deal with a possible test of a name driver. Jimmie Johnson publicly shared a positive test on July 3rd. He missed the race that weekend at Indianapolis, but returned this past weekend at Kentucky after two consecutive days of negative tests. If that’s the case for the NHL and the cases that are positive are asymptomatic like Johnson’s were…I could see why the season wouldn’t be shuttered because of some positive testing. Plus, the driver himself had more questions than answers after the double-negative after the positive.

It’s hard to predict what way the virus and the sporting leagues will go. Learning new things everyday about the virus and then having to change what was learned because of new information is very goal-post-moving, but something that’s necessary for these unprecedented times.

TEPID TAKE: The Best Possible Draft Lottery Outcome

After having time to think about it– the mystery Team E winning the NHL Draft Lottery is the BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME for the Qualifying Round of the playoff restart.

Yes, it sucks for teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators to not get a top pick after being terrible this past season. That said, some might say that getting Alexis Lafreniere isn’t going to be the cure-all for those teams. It would be nice, sure, but at the same time– it may not address the needs those teams need in the long-run.

But with Team E winning the Draft Lottery, it will get more people into the Qualifying Round and to pay attention to those who get eliminated. If the NHL and NBC marketing teams were smart, they’d have a little side promotion about how even if you lose out– you might still win with the 1st overall pick in the Draft. It might hook on some people who may not watch the qualifying rounds because it’s teams just getting back going after four months of a layoff, but it adds another thing of weirdness to an already weird timeline we’re living in.

Granted, there’s going to be plenty of conspiracy theorist that the NHL rigged this for certain teams to get a chance should they be eliminated in that qualifier, especially if teams who are already loaded– like Pittsburgh and Edmonton– get the first pick through fate. Even so, though– it would be a nice little touch for teams that are hated because they have so much talent to get more and for fans around the league to have a black-hat villain to look towards.

While this wasn’t the most unconventional Draft Lottery– that is held by the 2005 Lottery– this is probably the most fun. I’m all for chaos and schadenfreude in the the NHL, it makes watching it fun for me. This was the best outcome for the league because of the fact they need all the attention they can get, especially with the pause of the season. To get eyes on the game because the qualifiers will help determine who gets the top prospect of the draft is an amazing gimmick.

It’s easy to understand why people are butt-hurt. It may have looked like a bad idea for the league to have a Draft Lottery with teams who haven’t lost yet getting the top pick, but in the grand schemes– this is the best possible outcome and may translate into more people paying attention to the qualifying rounds when they may not have.

Though, let’s be honest, it might not be a concern at all if the NHLPA doesn’t agree to the season ending or the qualifying round getting stopped due to sickness– but it’s still a nice thought to have that it becomes Mario Kart rules where even if you lose in the playoffs– you could possibly win the top overall pick in the Draft.

TEPID TAKE: The Reboot

Okay, let’s just take a step back to process the craziness about what the NHL rolled out Tuesday in regards to ending the 2019-20 season. I won’t get into the Draft Lottery too much because…well, I need a team of scientist to decipher it. But the reboot of the season– this is something that’s been polarizing with a good amount of people on the “what are you thinking side of things” for one reason or another.

Before it’s started, the biggest thing is that this can all be dissolved by the players, who will need to collectively bargain this roll out. If they say no, then it’s done and you can’t blame them because even with the NHL saying they’ve got enough kits to test every day…still some people are going to be apprehensive, rightfully so; especially with the failures of some tests and testing labs.

In any case, the regular season is done in the biblical sense. The NHLPA still said that the “qualification” rounds may have stats count towards the regular season totals before the post-season totals count. It’s a bit odd considering that it’s a playoff scenario, but not really a playoff since other teams are playing for positioning at the top of the table– but let’s not let that get in the way of a confusing roll-out.

Hub Cities (TM) are still to be determined with 10 finalists being there and waiting like it was an Olympic bid or American Idol. That’s going to be more interesting than how to figure out the draft lottery. I’m sure any city will be great to hold it in, though with no fans and probably players not going out on the town– doesn’t really matter outside of the facilities that those cities will bolster for the players.

I’ve been on the fence between doing a 31-team tournament to shutting the whole thing down. As we sit here with a 24-team format, I’m more okay with it. Nothing to do about being a completionist, but if you believe the NHL in having enough tests and saying the test will be every day….why not get it done?? There’s going to be some people upset the NHL got those tests, but if they bought it through legit means– very little to be done; just ask Larry Hogan about buying tests for the betterment of his state. Sure, the next season will be super late on the calendar and lack on because of the 82-game format they’re hoping for– but if there’s a chance to play, why not take it out for a spin??

The Draft Lottery is more convoluted because there’s two phases which include the teams that don’t advance in the play-in round. How the NHL couldn’t have just gone with the seven teams that didn’t make it be in the lottery and then the rest fall as they may– much like the other seasons when it comes to the Draft….but that’s too easy. Gotta mix it up, gotta go outside the box.

There’s A LOT to be done still. Like I said, if at any point the NHLPA feels slighted, then they can nix this deal and the whole thing is dead in the water. I don’t think anyone would fault them for it like it were some kind of labor strife. This decision can either go really right and nothing bad happens and people panicked over nothing though they were justified in doing so at the time. It could also go very sideways, very quickly and the NHL and NHLPA look like fools for rushing back in just to do so.

If nothing else– it’s making for a wonderful story to be told in a future “30 For 30.”

Remembering the Reebok Edge Rollout

The Rbk EDGE Uniform System (Photo by Mike Fuentes/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As I was going through YouTube, a clip came up from 2010 when the Flyers beat the Bruins after coming back from 0-3 down in the series. I didn’t think about the hilarious collapse of the Bruins, but more of how horrible those Flyers jerseys were. They came from the redesign of the NHL’s jerseys by Reebok and their Edge jersey system. Then I remembered the start of the roll out of those jerseys at the 2007 Draft in Columbus. With Reebok being the ultimate brand in the NHL, they needed to do something with the uniform system; especially after Nike came out with their Swift uniform system for the 2006 Turin Olympics (which had their own issues before the Games).

Before the big rollout, the NHL debuted the jerseys at the 2007 All-Star Game in Dallas– which happened to be the last time the NHL had a weekday ASG. The jerseys did away with the bulk air-knit jerseys of the past and make them more anatomical for the players, which was perfect for the new speed that the game had brought back post-lockout. Reebok touted the jerseys were 14% lighter and had moisture resistant technology, which absorbed 76% less moisture. There’s much more, including the core technology they had put together in this video here.

As for the rollout itself, it went team-by-team; though the NHL Draft hosts in Columbus debuted their look at the Draft itself, as did the Capitals There were some teams that did an entire overhaul– like the Capitals, Sharks, and Canucks; while other teams kind of fell into a templated nightmare with other teams. For instance, the Penguins, Senators, and Lightning used the same template as the All-Star jerseys; while the Predators, Oilers, and Panthers used their own template with the latter two having unnecessary piping on it. The piping was also noticed around the shoulder yoke of the Carolina Hurricanes, which stood out like a sore thumb. Not only that, but half the league went without the traditional bottom hem stripe on the jersey. The wide array can be found on the NHL Uniforms’ site.

Interestingly enough, the jerseys were starting to get leaked on the internet thanks to EA Sports putting out an unlock code for the game before teams officially put the jerseys out to the public. It was truly a fun time for people who were pining to see what their teams would do, but also a cringe time for some when their team underwhelmed in this situation.

I like to remember is how the first versions of these jerseys were trash. They only lasted about half a year before Reebok had to redo the whole thing because the first version was doing it’s job by repelling moisture…but into the gloves the players making sweat pool in their gloves. That made Reebok revert back a little to the airknit fabric and making them a bit less form fitting. We did have a glimpse into the look of the jersey, as the Ducks and Sabres each had a redesign in 2006-07 that was a format for what the new jerseys would look like with the collar being very pointed and where the NHL logo would appear on all the jerseys a season later.

Looking back, it was a huge step for the jersey era; especially with MSRP of jerseys going up because of the materials used. It was also a sigh of relief as rumors had the system using tucked in jerseys killing any kind of loose fit. The Edge system also was the start of the Icethetics website, where a lot of the leaks were posted for wider consumption.

The look itself may have turned off some people because it wasn’t traditional enough for them, but in the end; we all made it out and now move on with life in the Adizero era where the weight feels more like the older jerseys, which doesn’t seem to affect the play on the ice with the players.

Now Hear Me Out, Practice Rinks

With the idea of the NHL coming back around July or whatever and so many weird scenarios being thrown out there, the location(s) of the events are going to be crucial. Of course, the idea of a big, vacant arena is a trippy situation that’ll border on the absurd to open up the venue when getting no revenue out of it.

But what about practice facilities?? This is something Captain Chaos Jonny P thought of during the April 29th edition of Face Off Hockey Show.

Sure, there’s going to be some players weary of it because the training facilities aren’t going to be up to snuff with the exception of the main weight room area, but why not think about going to the practice rinks in order to play these games?? It seems like something that’ll won’t really cost that much in comparison to the actual giant arena.

There’s not going to be fans in attendance, thus not going to be need for much arena staff, outside of bare bones security; the big time presentation on ice isn’t needed– just speakers. A temporary set-up for the media could be put up if need be, because most practice rinks don’t have the control center for big money productions. The rinks are all the same in dimensions and really the only thing that may not be up to snuff could be the system that holds the nets on– but you’d hope that’s been addressed when they built the facility knowing that a NHL team would be doing their training there and you want the game-experience there to not really mess up a rhythm.

Looking at all angles, it only makes sense because it’ll be low overhead when you look at going practice rink versus the big arena. It’ll already be unique in the situation we’re in right now, so why not double and triple down on the situations, while saving a few bucks for not having to open the big stage when not making any income from it at all. Just a thought to save some kind of money– which could really help everyone in the end going forward.