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Nate Schmidt says safety is players’ primary concern

Updated May 27, 2020 - 1:52 pm

Nate Schmidt has been cast in many roles during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Golden Knights defenseman is part social media influencer, chronicling his attempt to remove a tree stump from his yard and timing his effort to pick up pasta with his mouth.

When he’s not producing entertaining video content, Schmidt is busy as the Knights’ representative on the NHL Players’ Association executive board, keeping teammates up to date on the NHL’s return-to-play plans.

“You go from hockey to bureaucrat in a hot second,” he said.

Lately, Schmidt’s days have been longer as the players’ association and league hammered out the details of an expanded 24-team postseason format that was announced by commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday.

Schmidt was one of the reps on the executive board to vote in favor of the restart plan. Carolina’s and Tampa Bay’s player reps confirmed to local media members they voted against the 24-team proposal.

“For our guys, one of the things that was important was keeping the integrity and doing it the best you can,” Schmidt said. “I think they got the format right. In my opinion, did a few teams sneak in that had a very outside look coming in? Maybe. But it’s an imperfect world.

“There is no rulebook or guidelines or benchmark, if you will, to what we’re doing right now and what kind of life that we’re living in, especially what kind of life we’re living in hockey.”

Since the NHL paused March 12, Schmidt is responsible for relaying updates from the NHLPA to teammates and bringing their concerns to the executive board.

On days when the NHLPA meets, Schmidt holds a group chat on FaceTime that usually goes for an hour, then gets three or four “stragglers” who have additional questions or didn’t want to bring up an idea in front of the group.

“The biggest thing that our guys talked about was safety and whatnot, and that’s something you’re going to see a lot more of,” Schmidt said, adding the detailed Phase Two plan the NHL released Monday provided reassurance to his teammates.

“Just being able to be back playing is something that we want to do, but it has to be a situation where it’s going to be healthy and safe as possible for everyone. Anyone that’s involved in this is going to have to feel comfortable.”

Under the NHL’s return-to-play plan, the Knights receive an opening-round bye and play round-robin games against St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas to determine the top four seeds in the Western Conference.

The first-place finisher in the round robin will receive the top seed, giving the Knights a chance to move up from the No. 3 seed.

“If you’re St. Louis, you’re like, ‘Man, we had this huge lead on everybody. Now we’ve got to play a round robin. Now we could lose three games and be in fourth place?’ ” Schmidt said. “It’s hard, but you can’t please everybody.”

One of the issues yet to be determined by the Return to Play committee is whether the postseason will utilize a bracket format or reseed to ensure the top seed faces the lowest remaining seed. One compromise could be to reseed only after the qualifying round.

Schmidt said he doesn’t have a preference but leans toward continuing with the bracket style.

“Typically I would say I like the original format because I believe that upsets happen, things happen,” Schmidt said. “If a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament wins, do they have to go play Duke, who is a No. 2 seed? No. That’s just the way things go.

“I think if I had to choose, I would roll out the bracket. Everyone talks about keeping the integrity of the playoffs, and that’s what it is. If they’re reseeding, well, a team only won three games and now they’re going to play the 12 seed or whatever? You can make arguments for both sides.”

There are several details of the return-to-play plan that must be worked out, including how the hub cities will be set up and whether players will be sequestered from their family.

Schmidt said that issue is at the forefront of several players’ minds, but he remains optimistic as the process crosses the figurative red line.

“It’s going to be hard to say, ‘Hey, go away for a couple of months.’ You look at our team, we have some young ones, some babies that it would be hard for guys to be away that long,” Schmidt said. “I think if I had to say, I would hope we’re past the halfway mark on this thing and getting things done and how far along it is. But there are some questions that still need to be had.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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