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James Duthie: Here’s what the NHL playoffs could look like – if they aren’t cancelled
SASKATOON -- The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the sports world including the National Hockey League. CTV Saskatoon Morning Live's Mike Ciona checked in with TSN’s James Duthie to learn more about the state of the game. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Good morning James.
How are you doing, Mike? Did you say -22?
Well, -21 but who’s counting?
I am so sorry, Saskatchewan. I feel so bad.
It feels like we should be talking about 60 days until the start of the hockey playoffs - and I guess that is what we’re talking about. By the way, we do appreciate the kind thoughts as we freeze out here. What are you hearing? Any rumblings on when hockey might return?
I think that the NHL, the NHL general managers, the league are trying to be optimistic. They’re like everybody else. They’re listening to the health experts and following this virus and they’re hopeful at some point they’ll be able to finish this season - perhaps start again in August, finish in September, and I guess that’s still a possibility although I would say that’s probably less than 50 per cent. It just seems far off now, particularly the way things are going in the States, of 18,000 people gathering in an arena even sometime this summer.
Now, could they do what the NBA is talking about and hold games with nobody in the rinks? I suppose that’s a possibility. I don’t think any of us really know where this thing is going and maybe by the end of June we’ll have a better handle on whether playing hockey in August or September is realistic. The NHL is certainly making plans and holding out hope but I think we all have to be skeptical until then. It would be so weird to watch the playoffs with nobody in the building if that was the case. It would just be the strangest thing imaginable. I’m not sure it would feel right, Mike, is what I’m saying. But they want to finish it any way they can.
Perhaps the television side of things - we also have to concern ourselves with the business side of this. It is something that might happen. Is the regular season a fait accompli, are we maybe going to see an abridged playoff?
You hear a lot of the players talking, they would love to see some sort of completion of the regular season. I think that’s impossible. You have to hold a training camp of some sort first. The idea of finishing in some cases 12 more games, which would take three weeks, again not knowing where the virus is going, I think would more likely be a scenario where they would start the playoffs and maybe expand the playoffs to include seven or eight teams that are maybe just out of it and whittle it down quickly, play best-of-threes or best-of-fives, maybe get to a Stanley Cup final that is a best-of-seven. But again, all of these are just absolute hypotheticals at this point in time because it’s completely out of the NHL’s control, really. If the health experts say come July, nobody is gathering again until fall, then the season is going to be lost.
What about the draft? You can’t have a draft in the middle of the season?
They’re looking at three different scenarios for a draft. I think the most likely is some sort of virtual draft. And I feel bad for the players involved, it’s your dream always to walk up on that stage and put on an NHL jersey and I just don't think that’s going to happen.
One final question. Former Prince Albert Raider Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oiler, is real close to Saskatchewan here. We're just gonna give this guy the Hart Trophy, is that the plan?
Yeah. I think so. I would be shocked - it would be ridiculous if anybody else won it. There are lots of legitimate candidates - a lot of people would argue Connor McDavid is still the best player in the world - what Draisaitl did with him out, the amount of points he is ahead of everybody else, I think he’s a runaway winner of the Hart.