The Wild was on a roll and back in the battle for a playoff spot after months of playing catch-up.
Then the coronavirus pandemic shut down the NHL.
Finishing the season is the league’s goal, but how that could happen still is unclear — including whether the Wild gets to participate.
The latest: Although the NHL hasn’t finalized a timeline to resume the season, it has a plan in place to get closer to making a relaunch a reality.
Before holding training camps, which likely would be at least three weeks, the league believes it might be able to open team facilities for small group activities in mid-to-late May.
What’s been said: The Wild wants to get back on the ice and continue its season, but goalie Devan Dubnyk said players also have concerns. “Guys with kids at home aren’t interested in shacking up somewhere for four months and being away from them.”
Where is everyone? The NHL has allowed players to return home, and about half of the Wild roster has left Minnesota.
Biggest obstacles: Although the NHL has been exploring the idea of resuming play in a handful of hub cities rather than all 31 rinks, the concept opens up a maze of questions.
As Dubnyk said, players won’t want to be isolated from their families, but how does the league keep everyone safe? Testing and media access are other important issues.
The format of a restart is also up in the air. The NHL could jump ahead to the playoffs, perhaps adopting an expanded field to involve more clubs. This decision is especially important to a bubble team such as the Wild.
If the NHL commences with a normal, 16-team playoff based on the current standings — or even an order reorganized by points percentage since clubs haven’t played the same amount of games — the Wild would be left out.
But before the games can begin, players have to get back to their NHL cities and train.
Border closures and self-quarantine guidelines will make travel challenging and possibly delay players’ availability.
Reasons for optimism: It’s clear the NHL is committed to trying to salvage the season, even with fans unlikely to be in attendance. Not only has it developed a Return to Play Committee, but league brass has said it can play into the summer — even if that means next season has a later start date.
And just days ago, Commissioner Gary Bettman told a virtual town hall hosted by the San Jose Sharks for members of their business alliance that he wasn’t contemplating canceling the season, according to the Mercury News.
The bottom line: The league is not ready to consider pulling the plug on the season, instead focusing on finding a path that can lead to a return.