Detroit — Summer hockey in July seems like a strange concept, but it’s one Justin Abdelkader is ready to embrace.
To get back to simply playing NHL hockey again, for normalcy, and the opportunity for Abdelkader and the Red Wings to finish this regular season on a positive note.
“For sure individually, and as a team, it would have a lot of benefits,” Abdelkader said, if the NHL were to resume its paused season because of the coronavirus pandemic. “You can work on your skills and development, you can get better, and there’s going to be opportunity to get better. As a team, and for me personally, that can help lead into the following season.”
Speculation is building the NHL could resume its regular season — and complete the playoffs — this summer with a “hub” city hosting as many as eight teams.
The Red Wings were 17-49-5 on March 12 when the season was suspended, so the playoffs aren’t a concern.
But generating some momentum is possible, which is what Abdelkader also wants to do. Abdelkader only had three points in 49 games played, with no goals.
For a 33-year-old with three years left on a seven-year contract worth $29.75 million, it wasn’t the season Abdelkader envisioned for himself or the team.
“No, it wasn’t,” Abdelkader said. “I still feel good and healthy and I feel I can contribute. I’ve just got to get myself going into next season the best opportunity to contribute, and it’s not always points and goals and assists. There are intangibles and you have to make sure you’re bringing those intangibles and doing the little things every night.
“But when you go through a season where you’re not finding the back of the net like you think you can or have in the past, it can weigh on you and it was frustrating, for sure.”
A couple of injuries, including a broken finger that cost Abdelkader a month of action, didn’t help matters. Then, late in the season, Abelkader was a healthy scratch in four games, something he hadn’t experienced since the start of his pro career.
“You never want to be in that position where you’re being taken out of the lineup,” Abdelkader said. “But anytime you’re through a season like we had, and personally, if you’re not producing, there are going to be changes made to the lineup. I have to make sure I contribute.
“It’s motivating me going into this offseason to make sure I’m not in that position again.”
The NHL, like every other pro sport, is looking over a variety of plans to re-start the paused season.
At stake, if the regular season and playoffs are canceled, could be approximately $1 billion lost for the NHL, a monumental blow financially, and one the players will feel in terms of salary escrow and lower salary caps for years.
But that’s one reason Abdelkader feels it’s important for the NHL to resume the schedule, if there’s an opportunity.
“Sports have always been events that brought the community together and be part of something,” Abdelkader said. “It can get people excited and have people chomping at the bit to have something when we open up.
“We’re excited about bringing that element to people’s lives. We want to play.”
But, during these uncertain times, resuming professional hockey has to be done with safety ensured for everyone involved.
“As an NHL group we want to go back and play but we want to make sure we’re taking the best safety precautions that are possible,” Abdelkader said. “The last thing you’d want to do is start up and shut down. Nobody wants to do that.
“It’s just frustrating, just the unknown. Not knowing what it’s (the re-started season) going to look like and when we’re going to start. You’re hearing rumors on different things and we’re having a lot of phone calls with our PA (players association), but we don’t have a clear path yet and what it’s going to look like.”
There’s also the issue of players being away from their families from anywhere to 2 to 4 months during a global pandemic, which is an issue the NHL and the players’ association is working through.
“Guys will be away from their families a long time,” Abdelkader said. “We’re sorting through all these issues. Will guys be exposing their families (to the virus)? There’s a lot of questions, and answers that need to be followed up on.”
Now going on eight weeks of having the season on pause, Abdelkader calls this entire period “surreal.” Though the hope remains there will be hockey again soon, there’s a lot of realism, too.
“Still so many questions,” Abdelkader said. “We want to be optimistic and obviously we’re all staying ready and doing what we can to get back. But we have to listen to the health officials from the NHL side and NHLPA side and make sure safety is the No. 1 most important thing.”