Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby prefers the NHL skip the rest of the regular season and head directly to the playoffs if games resume during this pandemic-interrupted spring.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is on the same page, saying he’d even be willing to finish two goals short of his ninth 50-goal season, which would tie the NHL record shared by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
“Of course, you want to score 50, but right now, like everyone is saying, the most important thing is to stay safe and to get this thing done,” Ovechkin said Thursday. “It (stinks) not to score 50 and to not get another milestone, but you have to think about your family, people and fans to be more safe.”
The two Metropolitan Division rival stars shared their views Thursday during a video conference call hosted by the league.
“I mean, you try to get in as many games as you can, I think. But I wouldn’t mind starting right in the playoffs," said Crosby, whose Penguins were third in the division standings when the season was suspended March 12.
Crosby acknowledged the more regular season games that can be squeezed in would be better for the integrity of the playoffs. Ovechkin agreed when he appeared on the video call later.
“For, me of course, the more games we play, it’s going to be better for our fans and it’s going to be better for teams fighting for the playoffs,” said Ovechkin, whose Capitals lead the division. “But I’d rather start the playoffs right away.”
Ovechkin then broke into a smile and said, “Sorry guys,” referring to the other three players on the video call. Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno didn’t take offense and said: “Don’t say sorry to me. We’re in a playoff spot.”
The calls featured representatives from each of the eight Metropolitan teams. Similar calls with players in the other three divisions will take place into next week.
There is no timetable for when play will resume and it has not been determined whether the league will complete the regular season. There were 189 games left on the schedule when play was stopped, and each conference featured tightly contested playoff races.
In the East, Carolina and Columbus are tied with 81 points in holding the conference’s two wild-card spots, with the New York Islanders (80 points), New York Rangers (79) and Florida (78) all in contention. Teams have not played an equal number of games, with the Islanders having played 68 to Columbus’ 70 and would be in over the Blue Jackets if decided by points percentage.
In the West, Winnipeg (80 points) and Nashville (78) hold the conference’s two wild-card spots, with the Predators having the edge over Vancouver despite being tied in points. Nashville and Calgary — not Winnipeg — would be in if determined by points percentage.
With the season on hold, players have been told to self-isolate until at least April 4. To date, three NHL players have tested positive for the virus: two with Ottawa and the third with Colorado.
Each of the eight players spoke Thursday from their respective homes, with New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban having traveled to Los Angeles to be with his fiancee, retired Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn.
The discussion over whether to complete the regular season had at least one amusing moment in highlighting the sibling rivalry between Carolina’s Jordan Staal and older brother, Marc, who plays for the Rangers.
“Yeah, screw the Rangers,” Jordan said with a laugh in noting the Panthers have the slight edge in the standings.
“But it’s hard,” he added. “You can speculate and try to decide what’s fair. But there’s always going to be someone who’s (ticked) off about it. Whatever we do decide, let’s hope its for the best of the game.”
Marc Staal agreed with Crosby on one point, by saying, “You want to keep the integrity of what we’re doing here intact.”
Subban, whose Devils are last in the division, supported another scenario that would give 31 teams a chance to compete in a play-in tournament to determine the playoff matchups.
“I like that, giving us an opportunity to get into the playoffs and play some meaningful hockey down the stretch,” Subban said. “I'd like to play some more hockey.”
Foligno wondered whether the NHL should take into account the safety of the players, who could be playing well into the summer with little break before opening the following season.
“It’s a lot of games in one year that we’re not used to,” Foligno said. “I’m not saying that guys won’t grind out a way to do it, because us hockey players will find a way. But you’re got to think about the longevity of guys’ careers and their health as well.”