Quebec Standard

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Jack Todd: Shortened NHL season is something to look forward to

An intense 56-game season rather than another long, dreary 82-game campaign, could lead to more memorable games.

It appears there will be NHL hockey beginning Jan. 13 — and the big excitement for Canadians is that an all-Canadian division will be part of it.

Think of it! More Leaf games! Doesn’t that make your little heart go pitter-patter?

Seriously, as of this writing the NHL has almost worked out the protocol for a 2021 season, apart from finalizing the details of a Canadian Division. (The possibility of the Canucks playing in Quebec City if the league can’t come to an agreement with health officials in B.C. has been dangled — but as much fun as it would be, I don’t see it happening.)

The bigger excitement in this corner is over the possibility of a short, intense 56-game season rather than another long, dreary 82-game campaign. You simply cannot play a contact sport 82 times in six months and be at your best every night. The result is a dozen memorable games, another 50 that are acceptable and at least 20 that are out-and-out stinkers.

Having seen how the NHL handled summer’s tournament, I have faith in the league’s ability to pull it off without endangering public health. I was very skeptical about the return to play last summer — but once the decision was made, the NHL did a better job organizing its tournament than anyone else.

Obviously, it helped that all the games were played in bubble sites in Canada but for the league to play for weeks in the midst of a pandemic without a positive test was a remarkable feat.

From what we have seen, the NHL appears to have a solid plan for a shortened season. Travel protocols will be very strict. In each city, players and staff will be limited to the game rink, the practice rink and the team hotel. They won’t be allowed to visit outside facilities, bars, restaurants or shops and all meals will be served at the team hotel.

Guests will not be allowed in hotel rooms, players can’t use hotel gyms, there will be no housekeeping services, seats on buses and planes will be assigned. Given the NHL’s performance last summer, the plan is feasible.

As it is, the rough geographical makeup of the divisions will make for at least one brutal division. The northeast division (or whatever they’re going to call it) would be insanely tough, with the Bruins, Sabres, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals grouped together.

Four teams would advance to the playoffs from each division — at which point the border would obviously have to be crossed but the hope is that by that time the vaccine would have had enough effect to make it possible.

The Leafs will be the favourites in the Canadian division but there will be a lot of parity. The Canadiens should be better than they have been since 2014 — and the young Senators could be the dark horse.

The main thing is that it appears there will be NHL hockey — and if the vaccine can be rolled out quickly enough, at some point there may even be fans in the stands.

Play ball! Okay, it’s not like you should be making plans to buy tickets for that weekend in May of 2028 when the Red Sox are in town — but the dream of Major League Baseball returning to Montreal is very much alive.

As the quarantine began in March, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) issued its report on the revitalization of the Bridge-Bonaventure sector, which includes the Peel Basin development and the new ballpark that would be the key to the Stephen Bronfman plan to bring baseball back to this city.

The plan presented by Bronfman and Claridge president Pierre Boivin in October proposed a stadium on federally owned land that they said would be eco-friendly and rely heavily on public transit.

There is significant opposition, mainly from activists wanting to see more low-cost public housing on the site. The OCPM seemed to throw some cool water on the stadium plan when it said the stadium should be the subject of an independent consultation and analyzed on the basis of a more developed project.

If that was a setback, word out of Tampa on the possibility of a shared Rays team beginning in 2028 was quite the opposite.  Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said the Rays have made “tremendous progress” the past few months in terms of stadium plans and business dealings with the Bronfman group.

“I’ve been not just encouraged, but really beyond pleased on how things are progressing up there,” Sternberg said.

There you go. The Ex-Rays. Coming in only eight years to a ballpark near you.

Heroes: The Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Pop Lloyd, Turkey Stearns, Buck Leonard, Larry Doby, Mule Suttles &&&& last but not least, the great Satchel Paige.

Zeros: The NCAA, for its handling of the pandemic in men’s football and basketball, Notre Dame, the College Football Playoff, Cam Newton, Bill Belichick, Ron MacLean, Don Cherry, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

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