Manitoba

Winnipeg Jets fans share mixture of excitement and trepidation on NHL's tentative playoff plan

Fans have mixed reactions to the NHL’s tentative return-to-play plan that would see the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs if the league is able to hit the ice again this season.

Jets would face Calgary in best-of-5 qualification series with no fans in stands

Winnipeg Jets' fans get warmed up at the Whiteout Street Party prior to the second NHL playoff game against the St. Louis Blues during in Winnipeg on Friday, April 12, 2019. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Ward McPherson watches the Winnipeg Jets with enthusiasm every year and was listening carefully to the NHL's tentative return-to-play plan announcement Tuesday.

"I was kind of surprised. I was kind of disappointed too that he didn't really have a timeline," McPherson said, speaking of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's announcement that the league an the union have agreed on a return-to-play format if the 2019-20 season can resume.

The 24-team plan would see the top four clubs in each conference play two mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs. The teams ranked fifth to 12th in each conference, meanwhile, would pair off in best-of-five qualification series.

Based on the standings when the league suspended the regular season on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jets would be the ninth seed in the Western Conference and would face off against the eighth-seeded Calgary Flames.

While Tuesday's announcement doesn't guarantee a season restart, it is an important step forward.

But McPherson is worried about what will happen if a player tests positive for COVID-19 once the season resumes and wonders if that could cause a whole team to be disqualified. 

"You may get through the first round, you may get through the second round, but when you get to the third round, say you got even a star goalie carrying the team and all the sudden he tests positive for COVID and he can't play, then what?"

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters this is a key question the league has been discussing with medical advisers. 

Ward McPherson is a huge Winnipeg Jets fan but has mixed feelings about the NHL's tentative return-to-play plan that would see the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs this year. (Ward McPherson/Submitted)

"Their thought process at this point in time is that one single positive test, depending on the circumstance, should not necessarily shut the whole operation down. Obviously we can't be in a situation where we have an outbreak, and that will affect our ability to continue playing, but a single positive test or isolated positive tests throughout a two‑month tournament should not necessarily mean an end to the tournament."

Bettman says the NHL could be doing as many as 25,000-30,000 COVID-19 tests. The season restart would happen in four stages and there would be daily testing done on players that could cost millions.

The NHL says it hopes to have players at team facilities next month under strict health guidelines and hold training camps sometime after July 1 and begin playing games by early August.

"I'm pretty excited to watch the games again but at the same time, I'm a little worried it might be too early and you know I just think about the players and staff and everyone involved that could potentially be at risk from it," said Stephen Burns, another Jets fan.

Burns said he normally goes to about two or three Jets games in person and while that won't be possible this season, he'll be watching from home. He's disappointed Winnipeg Jets Whiteout street parties, which attracted thousands to the city's downtown over the last couple of years, won't happen.

"If the Jets do get past Calgary it'll be kind of sad that we can't have those and just have that sort of big community celebration again," Burns said.

Edmonton Oilers fan Mike Girouard is fine with skipping the in-person games. 

"You can be at the cabin or the lake or wherever and if you have internet or cable you can watch playoff hockey right at the lake with beautiful weather," he said over the phone from Winnipeg. 

Stephen Burns, far left in this photo from 2018, says he'll miss Winnipeg Jets Whiteout street parties, if the NHL's proposed playoff plan is a go. (Stephen Burns/Submitted)

He's supporting the Oilers all the way and wants the Jets and Flames to carve out a path for the team to win.

"I just hope they basically go to the game five series, beat each other up so when they come and meet the Oilers they'll be all tired out."

The NHL wants to have two cities serve as hubs for each conference with no fans in attendance. Winnipeg isn't among the 10 cities that have made the league's shortlist. 

But Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Columbus, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas are. 

However if the Canadian government's mandatory 14-day self-isolation order remains in place even for players, Canadian cities won't be considered as a hub option. The league said it is trying to find a solution. 

WATCH | 2-minute recap of Bettman's press conference:

Gary Bettman's return to play announcement...in 2 minutes

2 years ago
Duration 2:12
Commissioner Bettman outlined the NHL's 24-team playoff format, and the draft lottery.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

With files from Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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