Blake’s Takes: COVID-19 Forces NHL to Pause Play

This might have been a slow week in the NHL, but it was the craziest in our lives. The Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the country and has forced the U.S. government to declare a national state of emergency. I’ll do my best to wrap my brain around what that means for the hockey world. Even without any games being played, I’ll still be cooking up some hot takes for everyone.

1. The NHL Pauses All Games Due to the Coronavirus

[Photo Credit: CDC.org]
As a 24-year-old, this has been the craziest week of my life. Both the NHL and NBA have suspended their seasons due to the spread of the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The NCAA has canceled their spring championships altogether. Many people around the world are coming down with the virus and the country is a state of national emergency.

What does this mean for the NHL? As it stands, the league has hit the pause button on the season as most of the country goes into quarantine to stop the spread of the virus. The league is hopeful that it can resume play when this madness ends if it does at all.

As a fan, of course, I want the season to resume. However, it’s hard to disagree with the league as they’re doing their part in ensuring their players and fans are not put in a position to contract Coronavirus. Because if games were to be played, people would put their welfare on the line and attend.

It’s times like these that we should remember sport exists for our entertainment, and family and health are far superior. Literally everyone is affected by what’s going on and stopping the spread of the virus should be everyone’s first priority. While I’m upset I can no longer attend the Frozen Four championship game in Detroit, MI, it’s probably a good thing it’s canceled because I’m sure I would have tried to go anyway.

2. Larry Walker to be Honored by Avs

Larry Walker’s 1995 Topps Stadium Club Baseball card. [Photo Credit: Ryan Cracknell]
There aren’t too many great baseball players hailing from Canada. Obviously, hockey is the most popular sport north of the border. However, British Columbia’s Larry Walker, who played six seasons for the Montreal Expos and made his name in Denver, was recently inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Colorado Avalanche were going to honor him by naming him as their emergency goaltender in yesterday’s game against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The game was suspended due to the Coronavirus.

This would have been a great honor for Walker, who spent ten years playing for the Colorado Rockies in Denver. As a kid from British Columbia, playing in the NHL was probably just as, if not more, attractive than playing in the MLB. This is a great gesture by the Avalanche. I’m sure when games do resume and Walker is available as the team’s EBUG, they hope that he doesn’t make it in the game. Although, it would be entertaining to see if the 53-year-old has any game left at his age.

3. Bobrovsky and Others Pledge to Help Arena Workers

Sergei Bobrovsky [Photo Credit: Florida Panthers]
One of the more positive moments to come out of the craziness of the Coronavirus is that many players have pledged money to help support hourly, arena workers during the league’s suspension. If there are no games to be played, these hourly workers won’t have any shifts and will not be able to earn any money. Bobrovsky, who signed a mega-deal with Florida before the season, plans to donate $100,000 to the employees of the Panthers’ BB&T Center.

Many other owners, players, and teams have followed suit, including the Penguins and Mario Lemieux Foundation in Pittsburgh, Illitch Companies (owners of the Red Wings) in Detroit, and many others. Regardless of who you feel is responsible or should be donating money to help these workers, it’s wonderful to see that the hockey community is cognizant of the extreme situation and is willing to help. This is unprecedented territory for everyone in the world and I love that people are coming together to help those in need.

4. Welcome College Free Agents

Patrick Khodorenko [Photos courtesy of Michigan State University Athletics]
Every year, undrafted players that have improved their stock sign with NHL teams as free agents. It’s rare that these guys make immediate contributions to their NHL team, but it happens occasionally. See Cale Makar last year.

Chris Kreider is probably the most notable recent collegiate free agent, as he made his debut in the 2012 playoffs, scoring five goals and helping the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals — all before he played in one regular-season game. One of my favorite college players, Michigan State’s Patrick Khodorenko, signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers when his season ended.

While there will be many other higher-profile players to make the jump to the NHL, I’d like to focus on Khodorenko. I had the opportunity to see him play a bunch in college. The Walnut Creek, CA native was a great compliment to Taro Hirose during his first few years but proved he could carry the team in his senior season. Khodorenko will leave MSU having reached the 30+ point plateau in three straight seasons. I’m hoping he becomes a staple in New York and becomes the next Kreider.

5. Team to Watch: Dallas Stars

It’s been a weird year for the Dallas Stars. As always, the first two players you think about when you think about the Stars are Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Both are superstars and two of the best forwards in the game. Yet, neither player is producing at the rate we’re used to seeing from them. If the season were to end today (praying it doesn’t), both players would have posted their worst PPG seasons in quite some time. Benn since his rookie year and Seguin since the lockout-shortened season. So how is Dallas clinging to the third spot in the Central Division’s playoff race? Defense and goaltending.

I wrote about the Stars earlier in the year and how their defense had been fantastic. Nothing has changed. Out of their top four defensemen leading the team in ATOI, three have a positive +/- rating, only John Klingberg is negative. While the Stars have struggled to generate offense this season, they’re still a plus three in goal differential.

It’s their goaltending that has really been the story. We could have predicted Ben Bishop would be his normal stellar self. He’s been great this year, with a 21-16-5 record, 2.50 GAA, .920 sv%, and two shutouts. But, it’s been his backup, Anton Khudobin, that has raised the bar. Khudobin 16-8-4, with a 2.22 GAA, and .930 sv%. This is by far the best season of the 33-year-old’s career and it’s a major reason why Dallas has been able to keep their head above water. They’ve allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL. Just seven more than the leading Bruins.

If the Stars’ goaltenders can keep up this play when and if the league returns to play, they could be a dangerous team to face in the playoffs. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

 

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