By Chris Gere
To paraphrase punk-rock mathematician Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park—one of the greatest films ever made: “They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Should the NHL resume play in the middle of a still-rising pandemic? Probably not. Are they going to anyway? Almost certainly. While the conditions aren’t even in the proximity of ideal, the NHL seems to be in the rare position of advantage over the other major North American men’s leagues. NBA has decided to place its bubble in the epicentre of the pandemic. The MLB has determined that travel is okay at a time when everybody has determined that travel is not okay.
Regardless, folks are starved for sports, and they seem about ready to consume anything that hits their screens. Even if the NBA and MLB get their acts together, the NHL will likely have more eyes on it than ever before. Last week, the Edmonton and Toronto’s daily schedules emerged, and rather than the usual foolish Stanley Cup Playoff arrangement of spamming us with eight games at the same time, the matchups will be staggered.
Much like the NCAA basketball and hockey tournaments, this will give hockey fans a chance to watch any team they want without worrying about missing out on other games. It has the potential to be huge for several players for whom the NHL’s nonexistent promotion of individuals has failed. The two that come to mind are Connor McDavid and David Pastrnak.
It’s an absolute nightmare that the NHL’s best player is stuck in its northernmost market in the westernmost division. Most hockey fans on the east coast aren’t going to stay up to watch McDavid when the games start at either nine or ten o’clock. For perhaps the first time, hockey fans will get to see how truly dangerous this man is every time he touches the puck, and that highlights are a disservice to his ordinary play. Meanwhile, folks who usually don’t watch hockey will see what a generational center looks like in action.
While McDavid has the talent of a god, he has the personality of a bowl of soggy Wheaties. Pastrnak, on the other hand, has a personality to match his dynamic goal-scoring ability. If the NBA possessed such a player (they do… a lot), they would shove him down our throats until every 11-year-old who plays fortnight owned his jersey. While I’m personally grateful that’s not the case, I’ve always felt like a player like Pasta deserved more recognition, even while trying to shed my strong Boston bias.
Here’s his opportunity. He’s not going to get the full exposure he deserves because the NHL is still bad at things, but they’re going to do a better job by accident. New fans are going to see him crack one from the dot and smile his perfect hockey smile. He’ll exude his fun-loving personality, and fans will eat it up.
It gives me chills thinking about a kid who’s been stuck at home for months getting to watch hockey for the first time, gawking as McDavid takes one coast to coast and undresses the goalie, and Pastrnak one-time snipes the water bottle from the top of the circle.
It’s perfectly fine to be reticent about restarting sports as the pandemic worsens, but it’s also okay to be excited that our favorite sport is returning. Cognitive dissonance is natural. Just support the players who decide not to play, and appreciate that other NHL players are risking their careers to play for a Cup and bring entertainment into our lives.