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Tweetmail No. 239: Pause, Playoffs & Podcast

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

Hello and welcome back to Tweetmail, a regular Wednesday feature (can we really call it weekly anymore?) on Hurricanes.com in which I take your Twitter questions about the Carolina Hurricanes or other assorted topics and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully the final product is insightful to some degree, and maybe we have some fun along the way.

It's been a little more than two months since the last installment, so let's get to it.

Let's assume the 24-team playoffs occur immediately once the season resumes. What are some of the things the team has done to keep as game-ready as possible? - @Orzhov191

OK, let's talk Return to Play.

The NHL and NHLPA has established a committee comprised of executives and players, aptly called the Return to Play Committee. They've had regular virtual conversations about different return to play scenarios and formats, but at this point, it all remains theoretical; nothing has been settled upon, though I'd imagine there is a limited amount of runway to make a decision and put a plan in place.

Return to Play essentially boils down to two options: resume the regular season or jump right into the playoffs. Each of those options then presents a few sub-options.

Take resuming the regular season. One scenario would be to play out the remainder of the schedule. This, for many reasons, seems incredibly unlikely. Another scenario would be to play an additional handful of regular season games, with every team reaching some arbitrary amount of games played, short of 82. Again, this seems an unlikely proposition at this point in time.

Then, there is jumping right into the playoffs. One scenario would be to take the standings as they were on March 12 and proceed into the playoffs accordingly. Another is to expand the playoff field from 16 to 20 or 24 teams. In either case, the Canes would be involved.

Based on various reports, it sounds as though the most likely Return to Play scenario at the moment is with an expanded playoff field. It makes sense. It gets more teams involved, which engages more fans, and it helps bridge the gap for playoff races that would have played out in the standings down the stretch of the regular season.

So, yeah, let's assume that when play resumes, the league jumps into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, involving the usual 16 teams plus some sort of play-in with an additional eight teams. I would think there would have to be some sort of crash-course "training camp" before games begin, but in the meantime, the Canes are keeping in regular contact with their players in an attempt to keep them in as much game-shape as possible.

Now, this is only possible to an extent. The team, minus a handful of players who are still in Raleigh, is scattered across the globe. Access to equipment and types of equipment varies from player to player. Not to mention, access to ice is basically impossible at the moment.

Enter strength and conditioning coach Bill Burniston, who has worked to develop individualized fitness plans for each player, similar to what would happen heading into the offseason.

And that's, ultimately, how the organization is treating the pause: for all intents and purposes, this is the offseason. Knowing that the break in between the 2019-20 season and 2020-21 season is going to be very much abbreviated, the team is in preparation mode. While the front office prepares for the draft and free agency, the coaches and players are preparing as best they can for a return to the ice.

I imagine in the next month or so, we should have a clearer picture of what that might look like.

Thoughts on the 24-team idea and whether or not Sami Vatanen exists? - @AndyElliott1999

I understand and support expanding the playoff format this season. It's necessary biproduct of suddenly cutting the regular season short. For teams on the bubble of a playoff spot, it's only fair to offer some sort of play-in format in lieu of letting a standings race play out in the final three weeks of the regular season.

Is it a perfect plan? No, but I understand it.

What I have a harder time understanding is why the field would be expanded by four teams in either conference. A 24-team format would include the Montreal Canadiens, who were at exactly hockey .500 (71 points in 71 games) and an entire 10 points out of a playoff spot at the time of the pause, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who were six points out of a wild card spot in the West.

From a monetary standpoint, from an exposure standpoint, from a television standpoint, it's simple to understand the appeals of the 24-team format. Just look at who's involved. But from a competitive standpoint? It doesn't make as much sense.

What would be less mind-boggling is a 20-team playoff field, which would include the two teams from either conference closest to the playoff cut line. After all, these were the teams realistically in the race down the stretch. To me, this more accurately balances out the typical playoff format with the atypical conundrum we're facing.

In any case, the most important aspect to consider in all of this is that the Canes are involved no matter what, and whether it's 24 teams or 20 teams or 16, the goal remains the same …

Win.

As for Sami Vatanen, he totally exists! And, assuming we get a conclusion to the 2019-20 season, he'll suit up for the Canes. Anything beyond that is a question mark since he's an unrestricted free agent.

How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the available capacity of PNC Arena? Will they begin with a limited number of Season Ticket Members and spread them out? Are health screenings before games in the future? - @Zamara69546280

There are numerous questions about what the sports world will look like on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the early stages of live sporting events returning, but there are no simple answers to any of these questions.

What I can tell you is that the Canes and PNC Arena, through various internal task forces, are evaluating every possible scenario to ensure they're best prepared for whatever is allowed once sports, concerts and events return to the building.

At this point, it seems incredibly unlikely that the conclusion of the 2019-20 season - in whatever form that takes - would be played in front of fans, whether that happens in Raleigh or other proposed "hub cities." The focus, then, would be to play a full 82-game slate for the 2020-21 season in front of fans, reduced capacity or otherwise.

There is certainly going to be a "new normal" when fans are allowed to return to sporting events. Social distancing, temperature checks, contactless transactions - all of these aspects are being evaluated and could be required to once again welcome fans back into venues.

But until we even progress into that phase of reopening - after all, as of May 20, North Carolina's stay at home order remains in effect - this is all guesswork and speculation.

Can we have a CanesCast? Please? - @Owen_p_Anderson

I'm hoping we can record a new episode in the next few weeks, but that's still up in the air. As soon as we're able to get behind the microphones again, we'll be there - and we'll make sure everyone knows, too.

I miss recording the pod, and I appreciate everyone's patience during the pause!

Thoughts on The Last Dance from a UNC alumnus? - @AwaitingAndrew

🐐 (goat emoji)

I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. The footage, the interviews, the access, the storytelling. It was all very well executed. The unseen, behind-the-scenes footage from the 1998 season was incredible, but what I enjoyed even more was seeing the short clips of Jordan strolling around the University of North Carolina, some 23 (huh) years before I would do the same. The campus was just as beautiful then as it was when I was in school and as it still is today. Timeless. 

***

It was fun to dive back into the Tweetmail bag, right? We'll see what the next week holds, and maybe we'll do this question and answer thing again next Wednesday.

Until then, if you have a question you'd like answered or you have a favorite scene from "The Last Dance," you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.

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