The Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs have opened their safe zones for NHL play to resume for the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Odd things have happened in the NHL over the years, but the social distancing protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic take the cake.
Let the festivities commence.
Camp Didn’t Seem Possible a Few Months Ago
Looking back to a few months ago, there were doubts that the NHL would be able to pull this whole thing off. As the league is now on the precipice of the playoffs, March is a long time ago — perspectives!
During a video conference call on March 21, Connor McDavid said, “I don’t think we can just step into the playoffs. Game 1, it’s Calgary coming to Edmonton and guys are running around trying to kill each other that haven’t played for two months. It’ll end up the [AHL] Stockton Heat versus the Bakersfield Condors if that’s the case. We want to keep the guys healthy. A fair season is a full season. If we can do that, that’s what we’d obviously prefer.”
Apparently, the superstar who claims to have “no hidden talents” wasn’t doing much during his off time. He was inferring that he will be rusty. However, that is not the case as we wrap up the month of July and enter Phase 4.
Reports are making the rounds that McDavid has been flying in camp. “From many accounts coming out of the Oilers camp, McDavid has never looked better. He seems even faster than he did when he shocked the hockey world that major rehab over an entire summer hadn’t slowed him down,” wrote Jim Parsons for The Hockey Writers.
The All-time Greatest NHL Camp
The 2019-20 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are going to be very challenging for all players.
The extended cloistered environment will likely resemble the Red Army days that the old Soviet Union team endured (without the barracks and military environment). They would spend most of their life away from their family and friends. For the NHL players, there will be no leaving the safe zones to be with anyone outside of the bubble — no family, no friends. There will be no fans in the building, it will be all hockey, all the time. It may just turn out to be the greatest and strangest hockey camp in — wait for it — hockey history.
Meanwhile, it appears that my prognostication that Swedish rookie, Philip Broberg, will have a long career in front of him, but he would likely not make it to Phase 4. Wrong. Oilers general manager Ken Holland announced three days ago that Broberg will indeed be with the team in the bubble.
“Our young core players are starting to mature,” Dave Tippett told Sportnet.ca on July 14, to offer a little foreshadowing. “Both Leon (Draisaitl) and Connor (McDavid) recognize the responsibility they have to help them come in and, not just become players on our team but strong contributors on our team.”
We Knew Broberg Was Going to Be Good
This camp must have been outstanding for him.
Broberg has impressed at camp demonstrating blazing speed. The 19-year-old took advantage of an opportunity to continue to get ice-time as Caleb Jones was late to camp due to testing positive for the Coronavirus. Mike Green chose to opt-out of the camp, however, Tippett will apparently play Green if he chooses to suit up.
Tippett told the media, “You can’t walk away from a scrimmage saying that he doesn’t fit (in the NHL). If anything, you walk away saying he does fit.”
The eighth overall pick from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft scored twice last Saturday during an intra-squad scrimmage. He went end-to-end on one goal and then rifled a one-timer to the back of the net on the other.
Great players make others who demonstrate potential greater too. Wayne Gretzky’s otherworldly play was used by Glen Sather to bring in other high-level talents. The trick was to take a decent player, put him on a line with Gretzky so that his stats would shoot up and then trade him at an inflated market value. But he also made others around him better for non-selfish reasons, players who turned out to be legends like Glen Anderson, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Esa Tikkanen, and many others.
McDavid and Draisaitl carry that responsibility well and it is likely to their and Broberg’s credit that the Swede has demonstrated his anticipated abilities now. However, the playoffs are at a whole new level of play. The Oilers will need to protect this asset. Don’t expect him to play more than a few minutes a game, but expect him to be a much better player for it and to a degree he already is.
This camp, as unique as it is, may just turn out to give Broberg a big head start on his NHL career.