Blake’s Takes: We Have News!

Sometimes when I wait until Monday to write this it pays off. The NHL released some big news on Monday which gives me something worthwhile to write about out. I’m noticing a trend where the big news is released on Mondays.

That news was that the league announced the logistics for their next phase in their plan to return to hockey. Not only that, but the NHLPA also opted to move forward with the proposed 24-team playoff. It looks like hockey might be coming back. Keep reading to see my thoughts with a few other takes sprinkled in.

1. The NHL Announces Phase 2

The NHL released a memorandum on Monday announcing details regarding “Phase 2.” Phase 2 is essentially the phase that allows players to return to their markets and engage in voluntary workouts in team facilities. Here is a quote from the memorandum itself,

“In Phase 2, the first step in resumption of League activities will be to allow Clubs to reopen each of their training facilities in the Club’s home city, to permit gatherings of small groups of Players (i.e., maximum of six (6) Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff), to engage in individualized training activities on a voluntary basis, as set forth in detail below.”

The memorandum says that the league is targeting a date in early June to begin Phase 2. That being said, it doesn’t commit to any start date or give any insight into how long Phase 2 will last. So, what does this really mean?

The most important takeaway from this memorandum is that the league and its Board of Governors are invested in a return to play. Why else would they go through all the time and discussion of releasing this memorandum if they were going to abandon the season? While in reality, this isn’t the most exciting news. It’s basically the league saying they have a plan to begin workouts when they can. Still, it’s hopeful. And what more can we ask for?

2. NHLPA On Board with 24-Team Playoff

In other big news, last week the NHLPA agreed to further negotiations on the proposed 24-team playoff structure that could come into play when and if the league returns.

Like the memorandum, this might not seem like a big step, but it is. The NHLPA’s goal is to fight tooth and nail for the players, with only their interests in mind. If they agreed to further negotiations on the 24-team playoff, that means they are on board. Of course, they still have to negotiate other aspects of what this means for the players.

Again, this is promising. Obviously, we don’t know when the league is coming back. But, the league has to come back to a plan of action. Some way for NHL life to begin again. It’s reassuring that the NHL and NHLPA are investing time into figuring out how to continue hockey, rather than deciding if it’s worth it. Progress, folks.

3. Construction to Belmont Park to Continue

Some love for the Islanders fans. On Sunday, it was announced that the state of New York would begin lifting economic restrictions. That means that work on the Belmont Park site, the site of the Islanders’ new arena, can begin after Memorial Day. Construction has been paused since March 27.

This is good news for Islanders fans. After years of uncertainty of where they would play their home games, it looks like they will still begin the 2021-22 season on Long Island at Belmont Park. The shutdown doesn’t seem to pose any threats to the arena opening on time. I hope it opens on time because Islanders fans really do deserve it after arena-surfing for the last few years.

4. Akim Aliu: Hockey Is Not For Everyone

I’m sure you all remember when Akim Aliu and his accounts of the racism he endured took the league by storm. They resulted in Calgary firing their coach Bill Peters because of the way he treated Aliu. Last week, Aliu provided more insight into the racism directed towards him via an article in The Players Tribune. It’s long but I really recommend everyone read it.

For those of you who won’t read it, at least read the title. “Hockey Is Not for Everyone.” Obviously, it’s a play on the NHL’s slogan they use in their equality campaign where they attempt to spread awareness and acceptance for the LBGTQ+ and minority communities. Aliu ripped that campaign in his article and how grassroots hockey culture doesn’t do enough to promote and support minorities playing the sport.

The article was enlightening. It provided a scarce and much-needed perspective on what hockey culture looks like from someone who is in the minority. Seeing as a large majority of the hockey community is white, there is a lot to learn from this article. The most important thing we can learn is listen. If we don’t listen to Aliu or stories like his when they surface, we won’t be able to prevent them from happening again. I hope Aliu’s story makes waves throughout the hockey community, the NHL, and grassroots hockey communities. And when it does they should take notice.

5. Another Taylor Hall Update

Recently, Arizona Coach Rick Tocchet went on the “ESPN On Ice” podcast and gave his thoughts on the Coyotes’ involvement in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes. I didn’t listen to the podcast, but an article on NHL.com said Tocchet is confident Hall returns. Saying, “I’m not saying he is going to sign here, but I definitely think we’re a team he’s very interested in staying with.” Hall will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, whenever the offseason begins.

I like this for Arizona. Not just that they plan on pursuing a former Hart Trophy winner in free agency, but that they’re going to be players in free agency. Arizona is a great place to live and work, players in other sports seem to love it, but it’s not exactly a hockey hotbed. It’s been nice seeing Arizona on the fringe of competing in the last few years. Pulling off a trade for Phil Kessel was a big first step in showing they want to be competitive. If they can sell Hall into settling in Arizona for another eight years, that will show the league they’re serious about being contenders. If Hall and Kessel can elevate Arizona to being a competitor, maybe hockey in the desert can finally take off.  ■

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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