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Can the NHL return without putting players at risk of injury?

The Kings’ Drew Doughty isn’t sure play will resume this season. The Lightning’s Braydon Coburn says it’s hard to know what might happen.
Lightning wing Ondrej Palat, right, tries to fight through a check from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty during a game earlier this year in Tampa.
Lightning wing Ondrej Palat, right, tries to fight through a check from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty during a game earlier this year in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 15, 2020|Updated Apr. 15, 2020

Like everyone else in the NHL, Drew Doughty is working out, doing his best to stay in shape. But the Kings’ All-Star defenseman said he doesn’t know exactly what he’s working out for.

“I’m just working out because I know I have to be,” Doughty told reporters during a recent conference call.

Doughty expressed doubt that the NHL season — put on hold March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic — will return, though he said he might feel differently if Los Angeles wasn’t sitting near the bottom of the league standings. He doesn’t see how resuming the season can work, given that lockdowns are still being extended around North America.

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It’s easy for players to work out at home. Many teams, including the Lightning, loaned equipment to their players. Some players have home gyms or purchased weights. The question for them is what kind of workouts they should be doing given the uncertainty surrounding the season.

Are they still in season? Or is this the offseason?

The Lightning, like most teams, have told their players to “stay in shape” and have given some specific workouts. That means players are trying to stay as close to game shape as they reasonably can.

Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn called his current mode “maintenance-plus,” something in the existing training cycle.

The Peloton bike that Coburn bought his wife for Christmas has come in handy. When he bought it, he said, he was skeptical, thinking she’d probably use it only for a little while and then they’d have a very expensive bike sitting in a corner.

“Those words have come back to haunt me,” Coburn said during a conference call Wednesday.

He also has been inline skating, which players in warm-weather cities have tried. Coburn figures it’s a decent way to keep strength in the legs. But mostly it’s a fun way to stay in shape and a reminder of what he’s missing.

“It’s just putting the skate boot on and having my feet in the boot of a skate,” Coburn said, “just that feeling of tying up my skates. I don’t know if it’s just a little bit therapeutic.”

But no matter a player’s Peloton streak, he’s going to need time to get back into hockey shape when he gets back on the ice.

“If you only get a week of training camp with a couple exhibition games, you’re going to wreck your body,” Doughty said.

If the season does resume, players might end up without a typical offseason.

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The most popular idea for resuming the season includes playoffs in July and August, then training camp in October. That would mean only a month or so of offseason for all, compared to the usual three to five months, depending on a team’s postseason situation.

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As much as there’s a routine to the season, there’s a routine to the offseason, too. Most players take about a month off after they finish playing and then get into the gym and back on the ice.

When coaches talk about a player coming back stronger — as Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of wing Ondrej Palat this season — that improvement comes from dedicated time in the gym, when tearing down and rebuilding muscles won’t interfere with how he plays.

Lightning strength coach Mark Lambert has called the offseason a time to look at what is missing from an athlete and fill in the gaps — strength, speed, power, etc.

Not having a regular offseason and complete training camp could wreak havoc on players’ bodies.

Doughty compared the current situation to the one of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Offseason training was altered for the NHL players who participated in the September tournament, and the NHL preseason was condensed for them.

“I never recovered from that for the rest of the season,” Doughty said. “I was in absolute pain for that whole season. Now that I think about it, as much as I could be in game mode mentally, your body’s not ready for it if you don’t get a full offseason of training.”

Coburn, who didn’t play in the World Cup, wasn’t ready to go that far about offseason training. He knows the pause in play is putting players in a different position but couldn’t say how it could affect the annual training cycle because something like this has never happened before.

That being said, Doughty and Coburn echoed what every other player has said. They’re doing what they can to be ready, though they don’t know what to be ready for or when.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.


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