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Saturday Sports: NHL Bubble Prepares To Start Playoffs

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMON: Sports in the age of coronavirus, bubbles, testing, quarantines and just enough time for a little game now and then. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us.

Thanks very much for being with us, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I am fine. Thank you, my friend. Twenty-four NHL teams locked down in Edmonton and Toronto for the NFL - for the NHL playoffs. Today, its Knights versus Avalanche, Flyers versus Lightning. How do you social distance running a player into the boards?

BRYANT: (Laughter) And also having all kinds of scrums of weeks (ph), as we've seen. It's actually - I've really enjoyed this.

SIMON: I think with the WNBA, we've seen the bubble working. With the NBA, we've seen the bubble working. And now with hockey we're seeing the playoff bubble working. And it's been sort of fascinating to look at the teams that are ready, the teams that aren't ready. And you look at the records, whether you have Montreal playing Pittsburgh. And Montreal was a terrible team this year. They were 31-40-9. And yet they beat Pittsburgh...

SIMON: Not last night, yeah.

BRYANT: And to advance, which is sort of fascinating watching them simply because they weren't really that great. And then you also saw the same thing happen with the Blackhawks, with your Blackhawks, another 12 seed beating Edmonton.

SIMON: Here come the Hawks.

BRYANT: Yeah. So you're finding out here that it really has nothing to do. This bubble pandemic playoff hockey has very little to do with the regular season. But who's ready? Which teams can play without fans? Which teams - which, you know, which teams are able to adjust? Which teams are actually in shape? How many guys were actually sitting on the couch or how many guys really mentally didn't think the game was coming back? And so when you're watching this, it's going to make for a really interesting postseason and maybe these defensive teams that aren't as skilled like Montreal maybe because they're - they play a more grinding sort of speed, grinding defensive game. Maybe they're better equipped to play this weird sort of summer hockey that we're seeing. But it's been nice to watch live action.

SIMON: And I want to ask you about Major League Baseball, which has seen a flurry of coronavirus cases and had to cancel games. That being noted, is Major League Baseball test driving some of the rules changes they've made for this season, you know, the seven-inning games for doubleheaders, runners on second in extra innings?

BRYANT: Yeah, 100%, Scott, 100 percent. I've taken the position that that every test balloon you're seeing right now in baseball is something they want to implement long term. They - you couldn't have interleague every single day playing under two sets of rules. So boy, now the DH is gone. You have it in both leagues. You have - baseball for the last three years has been going back and forth about attention span and screen swiping and the whole thing. And they've been talking about pace of game and pace - and time of games. So suddenly, now you've got seven inning games. I really believe, Scott, in 10 years or less, you're going to see the seven-inning game be the norm. And the extra-inning man on second base I think is going to become the norm. I think that when you're watching pandemic baseball, all these changes you're seeing - they are not going to be temporary, including robot umps in the future. I think everything you're seeing now is something that they want for the future.

SIMON: And it's OK to kick dirt on a robot ump, right?

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.