No matter how good the news, there are those who temper it with a dose of reality. While many of us fist-pump and celebrate, they take a longer, more critical look. They’re the detached, to whom the cold, hard facts matter most. In many cases it’s their job. Those with skin and passion in the game think of them as buzzkills, fun sponges and wet blankets.
So it was after Friday’s announcement the NHL is back and, pending working out final details with the federal government, will begin play-ins and playoffs in hub cities Edmonton and Toronto. After months of lockdowns, lives lost and having our world turned upside down by COVID-19, a return to play with a 24-team field, even in empty buildings, is welcome news. That NHL governors and the NHLPA found a way to get back on the ice and put ink to an extension of the collective bargaining agreement in a relatively short period of time is high-five stuff.
For Oilers’ fans, the buzz is immediate. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers will open the best-of-five play-in round against the Chicago Blackhawks Aug. 1. What matters is hockey is back and the Oilers are in the mix. Even with social distancing and precautions made necessary by COVID-19, fans will get a chance to pull on their jerseys, paint their faces and get together to have some fun. Hotels, bars and restaurants will get a bump in business, something that is desperately needed considering the hammering they’ve taken.
Will a return to hockey undo the economic devastation done here in Edmonton and across the continent since games were shut down in March? Of course not. So many people have lost their jobs. I’m one of them, and maybe you are too. So many businesses have already closed, and they won’t be re-opening. It’s too late for them. Others will follow. I, like many of you, would have liked a day or two to forget about all that and revel in the return of hockey, but that’s not the world we live in. No cigar.
Economists are already weighing in on the financial impact, or lack of same, on what the return of hockey means to Edmonton and Toronto. The Canadian Press ran a story about it this morning, citing Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter, among others. From CP:
“While hundreds of people could be employed in positions relating to the games and hubs — such as security jobs, rink staff, food services and hotel housekeeping — the financial benefit of two bubble communities under tight seal would be ‘modest’ at best, suggested Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter.
“When you think of how many tourists would normally be in Toronto during peak tourist season, I’m quite sure this is less than one per cent,” he said. “The reality is, it’s not going to move the needle.”
Porter calls himself a lifelong hockey fan – I’m not sure who he cheers for – who sees some benefit of the return to play, even if it’s not reflected by the numbers. “The fact that part of our world is getting back to some kind of normal will help reinforce the sense that things, generally, are moving in that direction and could help support the recovery,” he said.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For now, that’s a distraction I’ll hang my hat on, at least for a little while. Seeing the puck drop between the Oilers and Blackhawks won’t pay my mortgage or get my job back, and I assume many of you are in the same boat. That said, getting back to hockey is good news, even with the requisite dose of reality. I started covering hockey for a living in the mid-1980’s, so it matters to me, as it does to people who come to this website.
The bigger picture remains. Economically, it’s going to be a slow, long recovery worldwide that will take years, not months, and the biggest challenge is that we have do whatever it takes to get on top and stay on top of COVID-19. Still, I’ll happily take the buzz that comes with writing and talking about hockey as a respite from the mess we’ve been through all these months.
Speaking of that, the Oilers and Blackhawks are scheduled to meet Aug. 1, 3 and 5 as well as Aug. 7 and 8, if required. We won’t need those last two dates. Oilers in three. Let’s start there.