Following a successful return to play over the summer, which saw the Tampa Bay Lightning capture the 2020 Stanley Cup, there’s a strong belief around the league that next season won’t begin until 2021, resulting in an extremely long layoff for the seven teams who didn’t qualify for the playoffs (Buffalo, Ottawa, Detroit, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose).
Considering the league’s shutdown occurred back in March, this timeframe would likely mean each of these teams will be forced to play their first game in nearly a year this winter, which would be less than ideal for any organization. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has also prevented those clubs from holding full team workouts while the postseason carried on and only small groups of skaters have been able to practice together over the last few months.
For the Red Wings in particular, their team has recently been participating in small scale workouts at local arenas and have been doing the best they can to stay in shape over the offseason. While the league still hasn’t announced an official target date just yet, general manager Steve Yzerman believes his players won’t require a ton of time to get back into game shape whenever training camp opens this winter.
“I look back to the lockout years that we had missed the full year in 04-05, players are skating, they have been skating,” Yzerman discussed. “It’s not game-like situations but they’ll get it back relatively quickly, I think. We’re kind of all in the same boat, some teams got to play in the playoffs – Dallas and Tampa [Bay] to go all the way to the finals – the longer the break in between it somewhat neutralizes the disadvantage [for] teams like us that haven’t played in so long.”
Though it’s still just speculation at this point, it seems there’s a very strong chance Detroit and the other six non-playoff teams will be allowed to open their training camps a little earlier than the rest of the league. That being said, Yzerman isn’t counting on receiving a significant amount of extra time for practices and feels the extended camp won’t stretch much farther beyond seven days.
“I think the non-playoff teams will get some type of earlier start,” Yzerman explained. “I’m not sure it’ll be 14 days, more realistically, it might be a week. I think it’s part of a plan between the PA and the league of trying to put this thing back together and get back to work. So I expect us and the other six [seven] non-playoff teams to have some type of head start, I don’t think it’ll be two weeks though.”
While the NHL is destined to return in the near future, there’s no guarantee the AHL or other minor hockey leagues will be able to operate smoothly next season, which could result in expanded rosters at the highest level of competition. Even though he’s open to that idea, Yzerman doesn’t expect that situation to occur during the 2020-21 campaign and he’s confident the team’s top young prospects will have somewhere competitive to play next season.
“I think an expanded roster really is only necessary if the American League doesn’t play because we got to figure out what we do with our players under contract in the American League,” Yzerman detailed. “But, as of yet I think we can make it work with our 23-man roster in a compressed schedule. With our minor league teams playing, it should be ok.”