As long as nothing major changes in Canada, in this COVID-19 pandemic in the next couple weeks, National Hockey League (NHL) action is set to return to Canada early next month. Despite the excitement of recent announcements, including the ratification of the return to play playoff format and hub cities being in Edmonton and Toronto, I think the NHL is going to find it challenging to get fans invested in this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. As a fan myself, in the early days of the pandemic, I truly missed being able to watch live games, of any sport really. But now, four months since the NHL suspended play due to COVID-19, I’ve become used to finding other things to do for entertainment. I believe, because of being used to this break from sports, it’s going to be hard for me to get as emotionally invested in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2020 playoff run as I have been in past years. I admit, last season I was frustrated when the Leafs lost to the Bruins in the first round again. But the circumstances around that involved me watching 82 games of regular season hockey and, then shortly, the playoffs. But with a season having as long a break as the 2020 one has, it will be hard to match that same passion when the NHL jumps right into the playoffs. It’s not just the four-month sports layoff, but the time of year as well. Most hockey fans are used to very little NHL action or hockey news after the July 1st free agency day, until at least September. These are the months people are usually planning their summer vacations from work, for the most part, focusing on spending more time outdoors, paying less attention to television. It is because of this, I feel it’s going to be a challenge to get fans truly interested in a competitive battle for the Stanley Cup this year, during what is usually a bit more of a laid back time.
While I understand the reason fans will not be allowed in arenas for this year’s playoff games, I think it will make it harder to sell the experience of watching them on television. Fans won’t get to hear the usual raucous nature of an arena at playoff time, so it will be a challenge for the NHL to simulate the cheers, applause and boos usually heard in arenas during the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is not to say I won’t be excited if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup this season, for the first time since 1967. But I think, the current circumstances are going to make it very hard for fans to feel truly invested in this new Stanley Cup tournament.