Vegas Golden Knights: The one big concern about hockey coming back

The Vegas Golden Knights are on the cusp of returning, but there is one major caveat to consider.

Thanks to a stunning Press Conference from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday, the Vegas Golden Knights have moved a step closer to finishing what they started in 2019-20.

While the Regular Season is now officially in the record books, 24 teams will return to play with 16 teams eventually battling it out for the greatest prize in all of sports – The Stanley Cup.

That leaves seven teams – the Detroit Red Wings, the Ottawa Senators, the LA Kings, the Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks, the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres – done for the year.

They will instead focus on the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery that will take place on Friday, June 26, and the eight teams that fail to qualify for the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs will also eventually enter into the Lottery.

For the Golden Knights, they will get two exhibition games before contesting a three-game, in-conference round-robin tournament against the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars to determine seeding for the postseason.

Once the Play-In games and the round-robin tournaments are complete, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will then get underway.

It is fantastic that we will hopefully get to see a Stanley Cup Champion crowned in 2019-20, while my hockey cravings are through the roof.

However, there is one major concern over the National Hockey League returning at some points this year.

The overall quality of the product.

Now, quick disclaimer, testing and the health and safety of the players is top of the list, but I feel this particular issue hasn’t been delved into as deeply.

Per the NHL’s Return To Play Plan, players will be able to start reporting to team facilities in June in small groups and, if that goes smoothly, the hope then is to hold Training Camps in July.

Those teams still playing will then be moved to two Hub Cities – one for the Western Conference and one for the Eastern Conference – where the games will commence.

We’re looking at the first puck being dropped at the end of July or early August, as long as there are no further complications between now and then.

So, if we go for an August start, that’s nearly five months since players last played a competitive game.

While they will have at least a three-week Training Camp in addition to a couple of exhibition games before the Play-In games and the round-robin tournaments start, will that be enough to shake off the rust?

Will it be enough for the players to regain hockey sharpness and get back into a groove?

I’m no athlete so I have no idea how long it takes to get back into game-shape and rediscover the flow of the game, but I have a funny feeling it might take longer for certain players to get back into the swing of things.

Also, while the round-robin tournament will go towards seeding for the actual postseason, I don’t think those games will have the same edge as the Play-In games where teams will be scrapping for their Playoff lives in a best-of-five series.

This could impact the Vegas Golden Knights in that they may be a little sloppy going up against a team that has just built a lot of momentum by winning a best-of-five series with a lot riding on it.

Plus, for the Golden Knights and players in the ilk of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty who have had a longer gap without games because of injury, you just hope that Training Camp and a couple of exhibition games will be enough for them to get up to speed before the real business begins.

Pavel Francouz #39 of the Colorado Avalanche blocks a shot by Mark Stone #61 of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Pavel Francouz #39 of the Colorado Avalanche blocks a shot by Mark Stone #61 of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

You also have to consider the impact no fans and, therefore, lack of an atmosphere will have on the players, although I’m sure the NHL will try to come up with creative ways in order to compensate for that loss.

But there is a danger that the games, particularly in the early stages, will be hard to watch and lacking in real intensity.

Of course, by the time we get to the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs you will hope that the players are fully motivated and there will be the usual intensity on the ice, although having no fans in the building will take something away from the spectacle and that’s something we’ll have to adapt to.

Now, granted, there are other notable concerns to worry about including Testing and the healthy and safety of the players, but these have been discussed in large so I wanted to focus on the quality of the games instead.

Given that the majority of the players were all in to come back, you would hope that they are confident in themselves to get back into their groove quickly and also be prepared mentally for a completely different kind of postseason.

But four to five months is a hell of a long time and jumping from nothing to all of a sudden slugging it out in fight-to-the-death Playoff games also sparks injury concerns, which could further hinder the overall quality of the product.

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I’m just worried that some games will be sloppy and devoid of any real intensity or purpose, but hopefully I’m wrong and the combination of a Training Camp and some exhibition games is enough for the players to knock off the rust and get back to the peak of their powers.

Let’s hope that’s true because we need hockey, we need the Golden Knights and a full-blooded Stanley Cup Playoffs would be heaven.

Again, the health and safety of the players is the main and obvious concern, but the quality of the product being put out by the NHL will also be put under the microscope.