Let’s be frank: there are far more pressing issues at hand when it comes to the various roadblocks that could completely derail the NHL’s “Return To Play” plan in the coming months.
As players slowly start their migration back to their club cities and get back on the ice for the first time in months, the race is on for the NHL, NHLPA and multiple other parties to come to terms on appropriate (and safe) measures when it comes to determining health protocols, neutral-site venues, a starting date for playoff bouts and much more.
One facet of the NHL’s return that is already likely set in stone is the environment that players should expect when games finally commence — as once-packed barns will likely be muted due to the continuing grip of COVID-19.
“It's very bizarre to think about — playing a meaningful game with no fans in there,” Charlie Coyle said. “It's almost like a practice atmosphere. Never played an NHL game where there was no one there. It'll be a new experience.”
By the time the puck is dropped in the NHL’s two designated venues later this summer, pro hockey will be far from the only sports league returning to action in front of empty arenas.
Such measures are already underway in Europe, whether it be in Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, the Premier League and many others. For broadcasts, both artificial crowd noise and live sound from these silent venues have been utilized — while Spain has incorporated technology to add “virtual fans” to these empty seats during these TV feeds.
It remains to be seen what the NHL and its broadcast partners have up their sleeves when it comes to their plan of enhancing the quality and immersiveness of this revamped Stanley Cup Playoff format.
But amid all of the artificial noise and flashy graphics set to be transmitted on our screens this summer, such augmented reality isn’t going to translate into much for the actual players on the ice — who will need to search elsewhere for the spark often supplied by 18,000 raucous fans, night after night.