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NHL players face imperfections but excitement in league’s return-to-play plan

WATCH ABOVE: Recent news and headlines about the Edmonton Oilers

No fans. More teams in the tournament. Maybe playing at a neutral city. Jumping into the playoffs after months away from the game. That’s what NHL teams are facing in the proposed post-season tournament.

Deal with it, says Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse.

“Have you watched The Last Dance with Michael Jordan? I think that’s a perfect example is his mindset in a lot of those games, of creating your own environment, creating your own fire,” he said.  “Yeah, there’s no fans there. Yeah, you might be in a hub city, but there’s an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. That should be enough motivation to get anyone going.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: NHL to abandon regular season, go to new playoff format if play resumes

While players can dream of hoisting a cup, they’re still a long way from competition. Training camp won’t start until July 10 at the earliest and would probably last two to three weeks.

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“It’s truly a unique situation we’ve never seen. The time off and then you don’t get a warmup game. You’re right into game one of the playoffs,” said Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Letestu.

“You’re going to have that exhibition sharpness to the game with playoff intensity. I’m not sure what the product is going to look like.”

Jets satisfied with new ‘fairest’ playoff format
Jets satisfied with new ‘fairest’ playoff format

Oilers captain Connor McDavid was part of the NHL’s Return to Play Committee which came up with the 24-team format. It gives teams like Chicago and Montreal, who were almost certain to miss the playoffs, a chance at the Cup. The Oilers will meet Chicago in the best-of-five qualifying round.

“That was a huge issue in putting the format together, trying to figure out numbers, who deserves to be in, maybe who deserves maybe a handicap,” explained McDavid. “We’ve beaten this thing to death. There’s no way to handicap those teams.

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“The integrity of the Stanley Cup playoffs is still intact. Let’s say a team like Pittsburgh beats Montreal and goes on to win the Stanley Cup. I think they’re a very deserving team if they’re going to win five rounds and go through some really good teams.”

Edmonton up against nine other cities to be a NHL hub
Edmonton up against nine other cities to be a NHL hub

“The way we had it described to us what that any team that had a chance (to make the playoffs) should have a chance now,” Mark Pysyk of the Florida Panthers said. The Panthers were three points out of a playoff spot with 11 games to go when the season hit pause.

“The push we would have had to make it over the final 11 games is now into a series.”

The Panthers are matched up with the New York Islanders.

READ MORE: Canadian cities won’t be chosen as NHL hubs if players must quarantine in hotel rooms: league

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Lots of questions still hover around the NHL finishing the season. The two hub cities won’t be picked for another three or four weeks. What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19 during the tournament?

“That’s a tough question. What are you comfortable with?” said Nurse. “Those are questions as a collective, as players, we have to come together and say, if one guy tests positive but everyone else on the team tests negative, you’re going to be comfortable with playing? At the same time, that’s where the importance of testing comes in. No matter what the format, testing is going to be huge.”

Alberta developing guidelines to allow Edmonton to be an NHL hub city
Alberta developing guidelines to allow Edmonton to be an NHL hub city

The NHL said earlier in the week that players would be tested daily once the tournament starts.