Fans’ yearning for the return of hockey is escalating. However, there is much concern about the NHL postseason not having the same energy when absent of the packed out stadiums. But after witnessing some sports that have already returned during this pandemic. It will not be as bad as originally thought.
A Crowd-less NHL Postseason Isn’t as Bad as You’d Think
Sports Already Playing Without Crowds
The return of sports such as the Premier League in the UK plus the NRL and AFL in Australia has shown there are some pros and cons to sport with no crowds. NRL and AFL in Australia have the most experience with empty stadiums prior and post pause of their regular seasons. Absent seats were initially implemented as an attempt to keep the sports running until the virus became too widespread to continue. Both Australian sports have returned without crowds and the potential to fill 25 percent of the hub stadiums in July. The Premier League has returned recently with success but has crowd noise dubbed into the broadcast. Which makes for a weird viewing experience.
Potential Benefits of NHL in Empty Arenas
Less background noise in an arena will give a different perspective on activities both on the ice and the bench. It will feel like an NHL mic’d up session, with every player and coach wearing a microphone. There are concerns games will have a practice session-feel due to the emptiness. However, in the sports that have re-appeared, it does not feel like that at all. It is hard to get used to initially, but still an enjoyable experience.
Tactics will be more audible to the audience as the more vocal players will stand out straight away. With a playoff feel, the play-in series (plus subsequent games) will have plenty of chirping in all areas which fans watching from home before the pandemic may not have been privy to.
An added benefit will also be the ability to hear the referee explain their decisions to the players and coaching staff. In the returned sports this has been a welcome change. There is also a nice authentic feel to hearing the raw game noises of skates on the ice, the hard hits crunching on the boards, and the slight deflections of the puck on net. A bar down slapper from the blue line in OT will sound pretty sweet in an empty arena.
Potential Disadvantages of NHL Postseason in Empty Arenas
As witnessed in the sports which have returned to play, home advantage is no longer relevant. Not only is there no home crowd to spur on the team in the dying moments of Game Seven (or in some instances Game Five). But teams are playing in a hub city which makes all games essentially neutral. This may benefit some players and hinder others.
Plenty of other issues remain: with many wondering how day-games could affect the players’ performance, how players will react to the new world that is sports during the virus, and how the organization of the NHL postseason could impact the league’s schedule for the offseason and 2020-21 year. This is on top of some asking how ice quality will hold up when subject to constant games and a different schedule. They’re all valid concerns and will surely be answered as the league moves into Phase Three.
Which of the above arguments wins will be ultimately down to the individual’s experience. If before the pandemic a fan was a season ticket holder and went to every home game. The experience will be unusual and may not be enjoyable. But other fans that already watched from home already may enjoy the insight into the noises they would not normally hear from the comfort of their lounge. This occurrence is never before seen by anyone, so just enjoy the game of hockey if or when it returns to TV.