Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


Sidney Crosby is cooped up in Pittsburgh binge-watching the “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” series on Netflix.

Alex Ovechkin is waiting it out in Washington, where his go-to show is “Deal or No Deal,” though he admits time isn’t passing very quickly as the NHL hit Day 14 of its pause amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Try to do some workouts, but getting bored,” Ovechkin said. “First week was kind of a good thing, relaxing and chilling. It’s kind of getting boring right now.”

That’s given two faces of the game plenty of time to play commissioner and ponder how the NHL should resume the 2019-20 season - if at all possible.

The Metropolitan Division and career-long rivals see it the same way.

“I wouldn’t mind starting right at the playoffs,” Crosby said.

“I’d rather start in the playoffs right away,” Ovechkin said.

But that created a little awkwardness among the six other Metropolitan division players on two video conference calls with reporters on Thursday, each of the players representing teams in slightly different positions with different outlooks.

“Sorry guys,” Ovechkin said, smiling.

“Don’t say sorry to me, we’re in a playoff spot,” Columbus captain Nick Foligno said.

And that may not be true when it’s all said and done. Yes, Foligno’s Blue Jackets currently sit in the East’s final wild-card spot with the season on pause – but they’ve played two more games than Anders Lee’s New York Islanders, who would knock the Blue Jackets out if the final standings are instead determined by points percentage.

Claude Giroux, captain of the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the NHL’s hottest teams at the pause, said: “Whatever is the fairest, I think everyone would accept that.”

Whatever is fairest is open for interpretation. Because in just about any scenario, at least one team will have something to grumble about.

“Screw the Rangers, let’s start playoffs right away,” Carolina centre Jordan Staal said, lobbing a shot at his brother and Rangers defenceman Marc Staal, who was also on the call. “It’s hard to determine what’s fair, someone is always going to be pissed off about it. Whatever is decided, let’s hope it’s best for the Canes.”

Marc Staal said: “You want to get as many teams as possible to get your true tournament, whether that’s letting a couple [extra] teams in or a play-in [stage].”

Foligno said “any idea is worth it at this point.”

But at some point, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association must answer: When? And for how long?

Foligno pointed out that P.K. Subban’s New Jersey Devils are well out of a playoff spot; they are 13 points back of the Blue Jackets. It would take a 31-team tournament for the Devils to play meaningful hockey again this season.

“I could be working out for no reason,” Subban said.

How beneficial is it for the Devils to go through an abbreviated training camp only to play a few games before taking a couple months off again? Or what if the Devils don’t come back at all until November, as some have proposed?

“No offence to your situation, what if you don’t end up playing and then we come back in November?” Foligno asked. “That’s a long time for you guys to be off. Is that advantageous or is that worse? There’s so much that we have to think about.”

Foligno cautioned against the NHL and NHLPA agreeing to a schedule where the 2020-21 season closely follows the end of the 2019-20 playoffs.

“We’ve got to think about the health and safety of our star players,” Foligno said. “That’s a lot of games in one [calendar] year that we’re not used to. “I’m not saying guys won’t grind out a way to do it, because us hockey players will find a way. But you’ve got to think about the longevity of guys’ careers and their health as well.”

In the meantime, players continue to look after their own health, asked to be in self-isolation at least through April 6. Players do not have access to team training facilities – leaving some players like Lee to run with his dogs as one of his main sources of exercise for the moment.

Lee said the gym in his New York apartment building is closed.

Crosby said he has limited equipment in his house. He told kids at home to keep shooting pucks, like how he famously demolished a dryer in his Cole Harbour, N.S., basement: “It’s a fun way to pass the time. There’s no excuse now.”

Ovechkin has brought his personal trainer to Washington to keep in shape. The Ovechkins are expecting their second child in the next few months.

“It’s kind of hard, to be honest with you, but in this situation – you have to [do] the best you can,” Ovechkin said. “We just go run in the street, play soccer, ride the bike – try to keep busy. When you’re by yourself, it’s hard to push yourself. Sometimes I don’t want to do it, but he says ‘OK, let’s go’ and we have to work out.

“It’s always a good time to sit on the couch, watch TV and play with the kid. But if the season is coming back, we have to stay in shape.”
For now, his chase for a 10th career 50-goal season and pursuit of Wayne Gretzky's goal record will have to wait.

“Of course you want to score 50,” Ovechkin said. “It sucks to not score 50 and get another milestone. You think about those little things, but as soon as you start to think about what’s happening in the world, it’s scary. My mind right now is not about scoring 50 goals or catching the Great One, it’s about what I can do, and my family can do, to be safe.”

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli