Thoughts on phase 3 and phase 4 of NHL Return to Play

Late last night, the NHL and the NHLPA announced the full details of phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Play format. The details included deadlines to opt out of playing, mask requirements, and roster size. Some of the requirements were common sense. Others, not so much. As per usual, I have thoughts on how it impacts the NY Rangers.

  • First and foremost, giving players until tomorrow to opt out seems short sighted. What if something changes? The whole COVID-19 situation is a fluid situation and things change daily. Is a team really going to punish a player for opting out? What if ten players on one team test positive? That would certainly change my mind. Is a team going to get punished if a player opts out? Maybe more details are needed.
  • The other detail that irks me is not requiring coaches to weak masks on the bench. The mask muffles your voice a little bit, but it’s not profound enough to have a serious impact. The coaches should be wearing masks, if anything, to set the right precedent for the anti-mask clowns. Players should also have full face shields for this one, just as an extra precaution. It’ll look a little like college hockey, but at least everyone is being as safe as possible.
  • How the Rangers handle Kaapo Kakko is going to be interesting. Players with pre-existing conditions will get a pre-participation medical exam, and the team can determine if a player is unfit to play in a pandemic. The Rangers have already said they will clear Kakko to play. But that could change.
  • All of the dates, including the July 13 opening of camp, are subject to change. The entire situation is fluid, and the season can be cancelled at any moment. Two teams have already been forced to suspend operations, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if more teams need to. Makes you wonder what the cut-off will be.
  • The Rangers will be able to carry 30 skaters and as many goalies as possible. Their best chances of winning are dressing all three goalies, stacking them in the crease, and letting Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Adam Fox run wild.
  • In all seriousness, no limitation on the number of goalies benefits the Rangers more than any other team. They have three goalies capable of stealing a series. David Quinn will likely run with the hot hand. That could be any of them, and the speculation will run rampant run to the first lineup is announced.
  • As for the lines, the main question will be how the bottom-six look. It’s a safe guess that Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko will be on the third line. Guessing Phil Di Giuseppe will get the look on the third line with the kids, since Brendan Lemieux is suspended. That leaves some combination of Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, Greg McKegg, and possibly Micheal Haley for the fourth line.
  • As for the blue line, that’s pretty much set, with Brendan Smith back on the blue line for the playoffs.
  • The wild card(s) here will be the prospects. Vitali Kravtsov is going to push for a spot. There’s a chance Yegor Rykov does as well. Libor Hajek’s name is in the mix, but it looks like he’s been passed on the depth charts already.
  • If all works out, we might be getting hockey soon.