WINNIPEG - The first 10 days of August will be jam-packed with highly competitive Qualifying Round games as 16 teams, including the Winnipeg Jets, battle to advance to the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With multiple games in a day being played out in two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton), hockey fans will have no shortage of action to watch - or possibly wager on.
"I've seen a couple articles saying it's a betting man's dream," said Jets forward Andrew Copp on Saturday. "Having five or six games a day, especially if they're playoff games and intense, it's going to be really fun to watch and be a part of."
Of course, the main reason all this can happen is because the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association ratified Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the Return to Play protocol on Friday. Equally important - especially given the uncertainty of a pandemic - is that both sides also agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement another four years, meaning labour peace through 2025-26.
Copp was part of the NHLPA committee involved in the CBA negotiations, meaning he's spent about as much time on his phone as he has on the ice since arriving in Winnipeg on July 2.
"We had a call a day for the most part. Maybe a day or two where we didn't, then a few days where we had multiple," said Copp, who got involved in the NHLPA last year.
"I feel like I learned a lot," he said. "It was good to be not only on the periphery but right in the mix, have input, and be part of something that is so important for our game going forward."
Video: VIDEO CALL | Andrew Copp
No fans in the stands for Phase 4 in the hub cities will have an impact on the league's revenue, which Copp said was a major part of the discussion.
"You hope that this pandemic doesn't hinder fans coming to games for the foreseeable future. I think that's the biggest point, being able to handle the downside of playing with no fans or limited fans throughout the year," Copp said. "That's the biggest thing for us, making sure we can have fans. Hopefully that leads us in the direction that the loss overall isn't as big as it could be."
With the CBA and Return to Play protocols agreed to and ratified, Copp's focus is now solely on training camp, which begins on July 13 at Bell MTS IcePlex.
He skated in Michigan during the pause, but he knows not all of his teammates had that opportunity.
"For some guys it's going to be to ease in and make sure you make it through the first four or five days healthy, but at the same time we're getting ready for a playoff," Copp said. "It's a best-of-five with three games in four days to start. You have to be ready to go."
The Jets had won four consecutive games before the season was paused. Copp had two assists in that span, but knows it's going to be tough for he and his teammates to pick up right where they left off on March 12.
"Hopefully by having a good training camp and being ready to go, having an exhibition game, hopefully all those things start to come back to us," Copp said. "That's going to be the biggest thing for every team is trying to get that confidence and trying to win those first couple games. It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out."
After all the challenges the last four months brought, and all the work that went into getting the league to this point, Copp can't wait to get back into the day-to-day grind with his teammates.
He never thought of opting out - a choice given to players to make based on their own individual circumstances - and he's also hoping the locker room can bring a sense of normalcy for the first time in a long time.
"After dealing with this for the last four months, you're looking for that normal feeling, you're looking forward to seeing those guys across from you in the locker room and being able to joke around," Copp said.
"We all feel safe here, I feel like that helps us feel normal in the room even with the protocols. We're able to see each other on the ice in a practice situation, that's the feeling we all desire at this point."