Seven NHL Teams Face Long Off-Season After Missing Postseason

Jeff Carter can take it easy this summer. The Los Angeles Kings forward will spend the next few months in rehab after undergoing core muscle surgery last week. Carter, who was injured in mid-February and missed the final 10 games of the regular season, is expected to work daily with the team’s medical staff to get back into playing shape.

On the other hand, his teammates’ days won’t be so structured. Instead, they’ll likely need to form their own workout schedule for the next 10 months.

The Kings are one of seven NHL teams that failed to qualify for the league’s Return to Play Plan. While 24 teams prepare for the start of training camp on July 10 and the reformatted Stanley Cup Playoffs slated to start in August, the Devils, Sabres, Ducks, Sharks, Senators, Red Wings and Kings are officially on extended vacation.

The league has yet to release a schedule for the postseason, but the Stanley Cup Finals aren’t expected to end until October. There are reports stating that the 2020-2021 season may not start until December or even January.

This season was paused on March 12, meaning the seven aforementioned teams could  go 10 months without playing a game. A normal off-season for teams that miss the playoffs is about six months.

For Sabres All-Star forward Jack Eichel, the news didn’t sit well. “It’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now,” he told reporters earlier this month.

Buffalo went 30-31-8 this season and finished 13th in the Eastern Conference. The top 12 teams in each conference advanced to either the Stanley Cup Qualifiers or a round-robin to determine which teams qualify for the playoffs.

“Some of these teams who are going to keep playing, they thought they were completely out of it and now they have an opportunity to play more games,” Eichel added. “They’re gaining valuable experience to the group. And we’re not one of them.”

Few players from the seven eliminated teams have made public comments. Most of their reaction has come in the form of vanilla statements from upper management, similar to what Sharks general manager Doug Wilson released last month.

“While we are disappointed that the San Jose Sharks will not be able to complete our 2019-20 season, we understand and respect the decision made by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association,” Wilson said. “We are already well into our extensive season review process and will use this opportunity to build on what we have already started to ensure our club is ready for the start of the 2020-21 season.”

All seven teams are trying to get a head start on next season and figure out a way to deal with such a long layoff. They are all hoping to hit the ice as soon as next month.

Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald told reporters on a conference call that the team is opening up its practice facility this week for any players who wish to use it, just like the other 24 teams did as part of the return-to-play plan.

These seven teams’ next step is to ask the league permission to hold a training camp, which would allow coaches to work with players. Fitzgerald admitted he doesn’t yet know if that will happen or what it would look like, but he’s hoping the league gives them the green light.

“It could be a mini camp or it could be a rookie camp,” Fitzgerald said. “It could be a rookie tournament. Maybe the Eastern teams get together. Maybe there’s an appetite for all of us to somehow have some sort of mini tournament.”

Hosting training camp, or even a mini-tournament, would not replace gearing up for and playing in real games. But it’s still better than nothing at all, especially spending the next nine or 10 months away from the rink.

“We all believe it’s not fair that we go nine months without being able to have contact with our players,” Fitzgerald said. “The goal would be to get as many people back here, so it’s actually a team environment where we can actually work with our guys in some shape or form.”

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