Hockey, at least for now, seems to be inching closer to a possible return to play. While that would be a welcomed sight for many, we are still a long way away from resuming anything at a normal level.
This is going to be especially true for those in the media who cover hockey. Things are going to be different especially in the short term.
No Media For Foreseeable
The NHL is currently in Phase 2 of their return to play plan. This allows for players to convene at their practice rink voluntarily with no more than six players on the ice at a time. If all continues to go well, Phase 3 would start on July 10 for training camps in advance of the play-in series around the league.
Notice what you don’t see though as part of Phase 2. There is no media allowed in the arenas. While an official determination has yet to be made about the role of the media in Phase 3 and beyond, it would be a huge surprise if the media were allowed any in-person access especially in the hub cities. Steve Simmons recently wrote that he heard there would be no media in the hub cities. That would also include no game announcers on site.
With there being an urgency to protect the players at all costs, this outcome seems like the most likely outcome. This would mean the way we view games will be different. It would also mean the way we keep up with our teams will be different. Sean Shapiro of the Athletic recently tweeted that Dallas Stars’ GM Jim Nill’s badge no longer works to get access to the player’s room. If the GM doesn’t have access, the media surely won’t have access.
Various entities have had to find a way to do different and creative things despite the challenges the pandemic presents. Team PR departments have had to find ways to keep access to the teams open while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Media outlets have had to find things to write about with no games now since March. While there is some news to watch for now that we have some dates for a possible return to play, media outlets depend on games to bring stories to the fans.
If media will not be allowed locker-room access to players for the foreseeable, that will mean they will have to cover the playoffs from a distance. There would have to be a level of creativity demonstrated in order to continue to deliver stories to the fans.
What you are going to likely see is virtual meetings and sessions with players, coaches and management. You know how teams will have an intermission interview with a player during the game? That would be the kind of thing that will become commonplace in this new normal. A camera and a headset would be available in the player’s area and that could be utilized for various purposes including postgame.
Still, until we have a return to play officially confirmed, we won’t know how any of this will look. Will the NHL explore ways of having some media there with proper social distancing guidelines? I don’t see it but maybe a different idea pops up to allow this to happen.
Our Immediate Future
The media landscape in hockey has been on rocky ground for some time even before the pandemic hit. Layoffs and furloughs are all too common in the industry. They’re even more prevalent now with no games. Even the Athletic, one of the most respected voices in the sports world, couldn’t avoid laying off great writers.
This is truly a challenging time for everyone involved. How can various media outlets continue to deliver top-notch content while maintaining their bottom line if we continue to go without games? That will be their job to figure out.
We at the Hockey Writers have been at it for some time trying to formulate a plan of attack as we go through this trying time together. The good news is that not only are we not going anywhere, we continue to see great results.
So a little background. We have over 100 writers on staff in which our coverage of hockey truly spans worldwide. Our main focus is the NHL, but we also provide great coverage in other leagues such as the AHL, junior hockey and much more. The biggest thing we do every season is our NHL Draft Guide. With a draft date undetermined at this time, our 2020 Draft Guide is already live with over 100 player profiles and growing.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
We have never had this many profiles in our draft guide. If this pause has taught us anything, it’s that we have more time to do and try more things. As time goes on here, you will start to see some of that come to fruition.
We continue to look for writers even now. If writing about hockey is something you’ve always been interested in but weren’t sure where to go to hone your skills, we might have a place for you. Our goal is to get a good team of 3-4 writers covering each NHL team to give you non-stop content. Our readership numbers are growing. That tells us we need to continue delivering what you want.
But also coming soon, we will be expanding coverage to different leagues. We already have a great team covering the Ontario Hockey League. But we have just brought on more writers to help expand that coverage. As well, we will have expanded coverage of the WHL. We also hope to have more coming in the AHL and NCAA in due time. In short, we will be bringing you more of what you want all on one site. The best part is it won’t cost you a dime to read it.
We will also start to highlight some of our featured writers and staff. Did you know we have several credentialed writers throughout the country and three dedicated credentialed photographers on staff? We are everywhere helping provide you with the in-depth stories you are looking for.
Of course, this pause will put a pause on being there live and taking pictures. But we’re still not going anywhere. We will keep close tabs on what’s going on and adjust as more information comes out.
Most importantly, our belief is that we want to observe all recommendations by health professionals in order to stay safe. Through the use of virtual meetings and technologies, we can still deliver content to you as we go along.
On a personal level, I will not be traveling anywhere until at least 2021 minimum or until we have a better grasp on the overall situation at hand. As we nail down more details on other ideas, we will share with you.
The rest of 2020 will surely look different from a hockey media perspective. Games might be called from a remote location. Fans won’t be in stands. Credentialed media won’t be allowed in-person access to players. We don’t know how long this reality will last. No matter how long it lasts, we at the Hockey Writers will be there with you.
We are also always open to your feedback. Do you like what you see? Is there something you wish we wrote about more? We’d love to hear from you.
We might not have many answers at this time. But the one thing I can for sure say is that our best is yet to come. We have a playoffs to look forward to (hopefully). We have a draft to prepare for. Before we know it, next season will be here.
We truly appreciate each and every one of you who takes the time to read our stuff. We appreciate you interacting with us. We might not always agree with everything but I do think the one thing we can agree on is that we need hockey back in our daily routine.
Stay with us. We are only just beginning. And until the games return, please do your part and stay safe.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.