Devan Dubnyk strapped on goalie equipment Wednesday for the first time in more than three months, getting on the ice at Tria Rink in St. Paul to participate in the Wild’s first voluntary workouts since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the NHL on March 12.
“It was nice to get back out there and see some pucks and get in front of a couple,” Dubnyk said.
The session was another sign the league is preparing to restart, but the NHL and its players are still figuring out what a relaunched season would look like.
And those talks will need to wrap up sooner than later if teams are to open training camps on July 10 like the NHL hopes.
“That’s still the goal,” Dubnyk said Thursday during a video conference call. “If that’s the date, then there’s certainly going to need to be something to vote on in the shorter period of time because that date’s creeping up on us pretty fast here.”
A month ago, the NHL announced its on-ice plan to finish the season: a 24-team tournament that culminates in the usual four-round, best-of-seven playoffs after 16 teams square off in a qualifying round. The top four teams from each conference are excluded, instead they are playing a round robin to determine seeding.
But the logistics of this format have been a work in progress, with the league and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) still hashing out protocols for competition, off-ice accommodations for the players and whether or not family members can join them in the two hub cities selected to play host to games.
“It’s a constant conversation, and it’s fluid because from last week to this week to next week, things are just changing and they’re changing in every city,” said Dubnyk, the Wild’s representative for the NHLPA.
Both sides need to sign off on the parameters before resuming the season, and they’re also working on an extension for the collective bargaining agreement that’s set to expire in September 2022.
“I was certainly less optimistic about it a few weeks ago,” Dubnyk said. “Didn’t seem like it was feasible whatsoever. [But] things just seem to keep pushing forward. So, as this has gone on and getting on the ice [Wednesday], everything’s starting to feel more real.
“July 10 seems a little quick for what needs to be done between then and now. But at the end of the day, a vote of any sort on anything can happen on July 9 and if it’s voted on, then we can start on July 10. So, in that regard, there is two weeks still to get something hammered out. …. It certainly feels like it’s going to happen.”
This push to reach a resolution comes while athletes across sports are testing positive for COVID-19.
Since facilities opened for training earlier this month, the NHL announced 11 players have tested positive and one team had to close its doors after multiple cases popped up.
Dubnyk said there have been discussions about players being able to choose not to play if the season moves ahead but nothing has been finalized. For now, the focus is on following the guidelines to stay healthy and keep the people around players safe.
“When the time comes to say yes or no about going back, that’s going to be a decision that all the players have to make,” Dubnyk said. “It’s got to be fair. It can’t be something that we feel forced into and something that lots of guys aren’t comfortable doing or we feel like isn’t fair for us to be asked to go do that. Those are important things, but I think that those conversations have been happening and continue to happen for a long time now.
“So, the dialogue is definitely there, but it’s going to be important to make sure that we’re not feeling like it’s something nobody is comfortable doing.”