Hockey is Returning


Wherever you are in this forever year that feels like an eternity, we have been patiently waiting for hockey to return. Considering that you had the unique expanded playoff format which included Play-In series before the Lightning conquered the bubble to win the Stanley Cup over the Stars in the autumn, we knew the off-season would be strange.

Maybe the most bizarre time off ever. We’re used to our champions being crowned in the heat of June and then having July and August with summer in full swing. Instead, you had the NHL Draft in October followed by free agency. It certainly was a dramatic change due to the pandemic that isn’t going away. As they test out a vaccine on elderly patients, we can only hope better days are ahead for everything next year.

There were moments where I wondered if hockey would return. Especially given the amount of financial losses teams took. The NHL doesn’t have a strong TV contract or the same big endorsements as the other three major sports. It’s why the NBA is returning before Christmas while the NHL continues to move closer to a proposed 56-game schedule starting on January 13, 2021.

While I might not be as enthusiastic about the latest development following the usual give and take between the league and the players, it is what it is. Of course, I’d rather see more games and no realignment, which looks like a certainty due to COVID-19. But the reality is we were looking at fewer games. I believed it could wind up being 48 like another shortened season. I wasn’t even sure they’d start until late January or even February 1.

So, if it really is going to happen on Jan. 13 in just over a month, we’ll take it. What we don’t know is how things will go. What exactly are the plans? Obviously, there won’t be fans until who knows when. What about a bubble? They might just decide to play the games in empty arenas with it more regional.

During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, not one single player tested positive for the Coronavirus. That speaks to how successful it went. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did a wonderful job as did all the personnel who never get enough credit. The medical workers who had to test players regularly. A hard job no doubt that continues in sports with positives threatening to pause the college basketball season. It also has caused plenty of cancelations in both football and hoops. This is the world we live in.

So, what about an NHL season beginning in mid-January? It’s happened before. We’ve seen it in ’95 and ’13 due to a lockout. They still went off without a hitch and had a good conclusion. This one will be different due to the health risks and no fans.

How do you feel about it? I admit to being frustrated. I guess it’s only normal when things have been so chaotic. I see how it is daily here. I won’t comment further.

Alexis Lafreniere will make his NHL debut in 2021 for the Rangers. I am happy that it’ll come this January following the holidays. To be honest, he’s the only reason to watch. Nothing against Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad. But it’s all about Lafreniere for me. That’s where the excitement is in the Big Apple.

I don’t have unrealistic expectations. Even if a shortened season could benefit the Blueshirts. I understand that they’re unlikely to make the playoffs. It’s still a very young roster. I’ll get into more of that next time.

For now, let’s just embrace the return of the coolest sport we know. The U20 World Junior Championship is on tap in Edmonton. It’ll begin on Christmas. Happy Holidays!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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