Ryan Pulock understands there are myriad challenges to restarting the NHL season, which has been on pause since March 12 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Certainly, the Islanders defenseman wants to play again. But not by putting hockey ahead of other concerns.
“I would think if we do get back to playing, there’s going to be some restrictions there,” Pulock told Newsday on Tuesday. “I can’t see the buildings being full, or fans at all. So I would think it would be more important to kind of salvage next year rather than really dragging out this year.
"I haven’t really looked into the numbers on that, so I wouldn’t know what's best. The league is going to do what is right. They’re going to really look into this a lot deeper than I have.
“The unknown, the uncertainty is part of some of the decisions, too,” Pulock added. “If you think, ‘Well, let’s just hold on this season and be prepared to start next season and be back to normal,’ we don’t know if that’s really the case. We don’t know if the start of next season will be back to normal yet. It’s really hard to say what’s right and what’s wrong.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged last week that one model being considered is having groups of teams sequestered at four league sites to resume games.
The NHL Players Association has formed a Return to Play Committee that includes former Islanders captain John Tavares, the Oilers’ Connor McDavid, the Flyers’ James van Riemsdyk, the Jets’ Mark Scheifele and the Senators’ Ron Hainsey to discuss the issues associated with the resumption of play.
Pulock said he has not gotten any direct feedback from the committee yet.
Some players have balked at the idea of being sequestered away from their families for the long term.
“Honestly, I don’t think it makes any sense to leave my family for around two months,” the Canadiens’ Phillip Danault said on Tuesday in a question-and-answer session with the media published on the team’s website. “I think teams that could go far into the playoffs won’t like it, either. A team that reaches the Stanley Cup Final could be away from their loved ones for three to four months. That’s not human.”
“Yeah, that would suck,” the Canucks’ Tyler Myers said last week, per the Canadian Press. “There’s so many high-stress situations throughout a season that one of the best parts is going home to your family.”
Pulock said he believes the NHLPA would have to vote on that kind of arrangement.
“I think it’s a little different for me than some guys with young kids,” said Pulock, who is home in Brandon, Manitoba, with his girlfriend, Paige Friesen. “I think that would be very challenging. For sure, it’s going to be different. You’re basically going to be going from the hotel to the rink back to the hotel for months, which can kind of wear on you mentally. But if that’s what it’s going to take, that’s what it’s going to take, I guess.
“First and foremost, everyone’s health is a lot more important than us playing hockey,” Pulock added. “We all want to play. I think it’s important it’s not rushed.”
Pulock said he’s not sure how long it would take for players to build their training back to where they’d feel safe to play in an NHL game. Most have not skated since the season was paused.
Pulock said he’ll skate on his own for two months during a normal offseason before the start of training camp — and that he’s still sore the first few days of practice.
“I think everyone’s different. It’s really tough to predict,” he said. “You just hope it can be done properly so guys aren’t put into dangerous situations where they’re not maybe ready to jump right back into playoff-style hockey.”