Detroit – The Red Wings saw their regular season come to an official end last week.
At least now they know they can begin preparing for next season.
But when will that season begin? And how are Wings players going to stay in hockey shape, with no games for a long time?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged last week the 2020-21 regular season might not begin until December or January, which would mean an approximately nine-month span between meaningful hockey games for the Wings and six other teams who aren’t part of this summer’s 24-team playoff format.
It’s necessary, and the Wings understand the unique circumstances, but it’s less than ideal.
“I’ve had some discussions with some of the players on this and there is some concern among the players,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s a big disadvantage for those seven teams (that didn’t qualify for the playoffs), for those individual players, without organized practices and coaching and going at full speed. I’m hoping we can look toward some creative solutions with the NHL.”
With so many other more pressing topics to work out, this particular issue is far from being addressed.
Ideas that have been floated include mini-camps for the non-playoff teams, some exhibition games, or simply groups of players working with the coaching staff.
Anything to break into the long time between games and other hockey-related activities. And hockey being a unique sport that’s played at supreme speed and with intricate timing, getting some one-ice work would be beneficial.
“Hockey is played with people at an incredible pace, it’s a chaotic game,” Blashill said. “There’s a lot of things going on around you and if you don’t experience that for a long period of time, you’re not training your body to make those decisions.
“Whether it’s a goalie to make reads and see through traffic, or a forward knowing what he’ll do with the puck before he gets it and makes the proper play, you can’t replicate that (without practices, games).”
Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin met with the media in a teleconference Thursday to talk about the premature end of the 2019-20 season. The Detroit News
One piece of the puzzle that has been difficult to replicate for any hockey player during this close to three-month hiatus is the inability to skate. It’s a unique athletic act that cannot be easily duplicated by any sort of exercise.
Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin have done some rollerblading during the hockey shutdown, probably the closest thing there is to actual skating in terms of technique.
“I’ve had some rollerblade sessions,” said Mantha, who has been in Montreal during the pandemic and has begun offseason training. “When I was a little kid, I was always in the street rollerblading. Over the years, not so much. I used to go on a couple (rollerblading) rides around my hometown. It was just like skating.”
Larkin also has gone back to rollerblading, while working on his stickhandling in his back yard.
“Rollerblading is something I did as a kid, so I’ve definitely put the rollerblades on,” Larkin said. “But it’s hard to get the stride mechanics when you’re not on the ice.”
Many players, including Luke Glendening, said this is the longest they’ve continuously been off the ice.
“I can go back to my high school days and playing football (at East Grand Rapids) and I thought I was in great shape,” Glendening said. “Then stepping onto the rink and I felt terrible and out of shape. Skating just isn’t one of those things that transfers very easily.
“But that being said, guys are riding the bike and running and working out, so they’ll be ready.”
Detroit Red Wings center and alternate captain Luke Glendening met the media in a teleconference Thursday to talk about the shortened 2019-20 season. The Detroit News
Glendening said it would be an interesting idea to have a mini-camp – similar to an NFL organized team activity (OTA) – but noted it would be a matter for the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association to work out.
“It’s very weird,” Glendening said. “Here in Michigan with the gyms closed, it’s kind of everyone’s on their own and trying to figure that out.
“You could look at it either way: It could be up to nine months without hockey but also it’s a great time to reset. It's a great time that if you’re missing something, whether you need to rehab a shoulder or an ankle or a knee or a hip, it’s time for that, and hopefully we’ll come back better than ever."
Blashill feels it would be beneficial for coaching staffs and players on the seven non-playoff teams to get together during this long offseason.
“But there’s lots that go into that,” Blashill said. “This layoff is as long as any of our guys have ever had outside of a long-term injury. I want to do everything we can to make sure that we’re as ready as individuals and a team for next season.
“I’m hoping we get some different opportunities than we’ve had in the past.”