Detroit — The Red Wings would have been in St. Louis on Tuesday, beginning their final week of scheduled games and beginning the countdown to the offseason.
Ken Kal, the Wings’ radio play-by-play man, would have been there to gather information in the morning, record an interview with coach Jeff Blashill and broadcast the game with longtime broadcasting partner Paul Woods.
But that way of life was suspended several weeks ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, Kal is sitting at home anxious and not knowing when, or if, the hockey season will resume.
“At the end of the season you start planning for the summer, and there are a lot of things I’ve planned like you plan for every year taking place at the proper time (development camp, Entry Draft),” Kal said. “But the problem you have right now is you don’t know (when they’ll take place). You’re basically in a holding pattern. You don’t know when things will happen.”
Kal is spending time at home with his wife, Darlene, a situation that simply isn’t available much during a typical hockey season.
“You’re getting the opportunity to do things you normally wouldn’t during the course of a season,” Kal said. “We’re playing cards, puzzles, tilled the garden. I’m getting a chance to spend time with my wife during the season. It’s one of the positives.”
Kal was in the final days of his 25th season with Woods broadcasting the Wings. And it’s fair to say Kal and many fans aren’t going to forget this campaign.
Kal was in Washington on March 12 with the Wings, preparing to broadcast that evening’s game, when news broke about this season being paused.
“We went out to dinner the night before and I saw (assistant coach) Dan Bylsma (on the way back) and he mentioned the Utah Jazz player (Rudy Gobert) tested positive for he coronavirus and the NBA had shut their league down,” said Kal, who immediately wondered if the NHL would make a similar move.
“The next morning I was preparing for the game. I heard the league was going to make a statement early in the afternoon, but I just kept doing notes and preparing for the game.
“When the announcement came down at 1 p.m. or 1:15 p.m., there was another announcement (from the team) to pack your bags and get ready for the bus, and we headed back to Detroit.
“It was strange. It’s something that hadn’t happened before. (Usually) you move on to the next city, but here you’re going home and you don’t know when you are going to play again.”
That is the big question — whether this NHL regular season will resume and when.
There has been speculation the NHL would be willing to go until late summer — July or August, or maybe even September — to complete this paused season and the playoffs.
Kal is hopeful the Wings will be able to return and complete their, and the NHL’s, regular season.
“I would love to play the last 11 games and complete the season, I really would,” said Kal, who wouldn’t mind seeing games in July or August. “You play an 82-game season. I would like to see it completed.
“Now, based on the time frame, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But I would love to finish the last 11 games and then have the playoffs and crown a Stanley Cup champion.
“I do know whatever the league comes up with, it will take into account what is fair for everyone.”
This has been a difficult Red Wings season, but Kal felt long-term injuries to Anthony Mantha and Danny DeKeyser as well as shorter-term injuries to several other key players, like Luke Glendening, Filip Hronek, Jonathan Bernier, make it difficult to properly assess where this roster is at.
“Mantha started out strong, was injured, but if he played a full season, you would see a lot of progress there,” Kal said. “It’s difficult to judge a guy like Dylan Larkin because of the fact of all the injuries (around him).
“A guy who really stepped forward was Tyler Bertuzzi. He was able to stay away from injuries on a nightly basis. He was pretty consistent. Hronek was one of the best defensemen. He showed a lot of promise playing 25 minutes per game and was asked to do a lot against the other team’s best players, so there’s promise there.
“And Bernier came through with a heck of a season.”