- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty doesn’t see how the NHL can complete its 2019-20 season during the coronavirus pandemic, even if postponed games are shifted to the middle of the summer.
“Honestly, I don’t see how this season is going to return. I really don’t,” he said on a Monday conference call with reporters. “We have no idea when this virus is going to be over. We’re all kind of just sitting at home, just hoping to return to the season or hoping to watch the playoffs return. But we’re just sitting here, waiting, working out, being ready to return at any point. I think the NHL would have to make some kind of decision on that soon, and it seems like it’s pretty tough to resume the season or the playoffs.”
Doughty is the most prominent NHL player to infer that the season could be canceled. The league suspended its 2019-20 campaign on March 12, with 189 regular-season games remaining on its schedule ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which were due to begin last week. Doughty’s Kings were 14 points out of a wild-card spot when the league was put on pause.
NHL players have been mandated to self-isolate through April 15, although that period is expected to be extended.
“It’s what’s going on in the whole world. I mean, everything just keeps getting delayed even more, with lockdowns and things like that. People are dying, more every day. I don’t see how or when we’re going to be able to make a decision to return to the season,” Doughty said. “And then when that comes into play, you have to figure out all the logistics after that. So it seems very, very hard to be able to do. But us players are going to be ready for whatever.”
Doughty is concerned about how ready players will be, and the physical impact on returning. Very few players have access to ice while social distancing. The workout facilities and access to gear varies greatly. But Doughty’s biggest concern is the interruption in the annual training cycle for players.
“I don’t know what I’m working out for, exactly. They’ve been telling us we can come back at any time. We never really got a break. I don’t know if they cancel the season if we get a break. We only got about four days without training. I like to take at least three or four weeks off. I don’t really know what’s going on here,” he said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has acknowledged that canceling the season is on the table, recently estimated that players would need two to three weeks of ice time to get back into game shape if the season were to resume.
If the players return to play in July and August, Doughty was concerned there might not be a proper break between the end of that season and the beginning of the 2020-21 season, even if the NHL pushes its start date into November, which is under consideration.
“We had to play that World Cup [in 2016] kind of out of nowhere. That was so tough to go into games like that after one or two exhibition games coming right out of the summer. I never recovered from that World Cup for the rest of the season. I was in absolute pain that whole season,” Doughty said. “As much as I could mentally be in game mode, your body’s not ready for it if you don’t get a full offseason of training. … If you don’t get to play a long training camp with like seven exhibition games. If you only get one week of training camp with a couple of exhibition games, you’re going to ruin your body.”
NHL teams are cognizant of players’ fitness, given the interruption. St. Louis Blues owner Tom Stillman acknowledged Monday that the NHL’s window to finish the season in July and August is much wider after the Summer Olympics were postponed. However, the Blues “won’t be putting players on the ice unless they’re ready to play. We’re not going to be risking serious injuries with people who aren’t prepared,” Stillman said.
Doughty said he understands the NHL’s desire to play this summer, but questioned whether it is worth impacting next season to give out the Stanley Cup in an unorthodox way.
“I know they want to give out the Stanley Cup this year but in all seriousness, it’s not going to be like winning a real Stanley Cup because the season wasn’t finished. There are teams that couldn’t get in the playoffs, and I’m assuming they’d have to come up with a different format for it,” he said.
Of course, Doughty’s Los Angeles Kings were in 14th place in the Western Conference, sitting 14 points out of a playoff spot, when the season was paused. Would he feel differently about the NHL returning to finish the season if the Kings were in championship contention? “Yeah, for sure,” Doughty said with a laugh.
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