As the NHL is expected to extend their quarantine through mid-May, a move that is more or less standard procedure given that some states are shut down through then as well, all talks are moving towards the season kicking off again around June/July. We discussed this on the podcast, and I have some thoughts.
1. It is unclear what the exact plan is, but there are discussions about centering this around four cities, where teams would play out the remainder of the regular season before the playoffs. The locations would be regionally friendly but not based on division. It is assumed that teams would be isolated there and would not travel.
2. While it may not be by division, this will still significantly alter the rest of the regular season slate. The Rangers had just six games against in-division opponents. They had two games left against Western Conference teams. The rest were against Atlantic Division teams. How will that work? Will the Rangers miss out on playing Calgary and Arizona, two very winnable games, in the midst of a playoff push? Will the be forced to play divisional teams instead? Is that necessarily fair? It alters the entire landscape of the NHL by doing this, as it amounts to 10% of the season with an unbalanced schedule.
3. The players have concerns with bringing back the season. Time away from families during a pandemic is certainly a big concern. Yes there are players on the return-to-play committee, but they are a small sample of the full player base. Remember that the NHLPA needs to agree to any return-to-play scenario. The players are not only thinking about this year, but next year. This will impact their offseason training regiments. Will that have an impact on soft tissue injuries?
4. For the owners, this is all about money. The league forgoing 10% of the season, the playoffs, and attendance at the awards ceremony/draft will significantly impact revenue. This will drive down the salary cap as well, so it does impact the players with a 50/50 HRR split. There’s also TV revenue and ad partner revenue that will be down, which may result in less HRR for next season if prior deals need to be honored. It’s a messy situation.
5. My own thoughts: This is stupid. Yes I want sports back, I want hockey back. I want regular traffic to the blog back. I want things to write about, not just speculation. My brain is running dry with actual topics. But here’s the thing. There are so many logistical requirements that are being thrown together at the last minute to try to salvage the season, no one is thinking of the actual quality of the product that is going to be presented. Altered schedules are one thing. How will the playoffs look? What will the TV coverage look like, especially with no fans in the stands? Will there be radio coverage? How will teams practice? Where? What cities are going to open practice facilities that aren’t considered essential? Is it to the practice/game rink and back to the hotel for the hundreds of people that are going to be impacted?
6. All of this to cram in another 10-15 games –an unbalanced schedule– and a full playoffs before beginning the offseason. No matter what, this impacts next season as well. The start of next season will be delayed. Will it be a shortened season? Will they just extend the regular season and delay the 2021 offseason?
7. What about the second wave of the coronavirus? It will hit, and it projects to hit in October. But hey, perhaps the NHL is planning for this by extending this season out. Maybe they are anticipating the second wave and having the offseason activities take place when the second wave is expected. Maybe the NHL has some foresight here, but their track record isn’t with them. And yes, that second wave is coming. It always does. Every pandemic has a second wave, from the Spanish Flu to H1N1. This will be no different.
8. If it were me, I’d just cancel the season and try to resume the 2020-2021 offseason/regular season as planned, and spend this time working on a contingency plan for the second wave of coronavirus. Will it be terrible? Yes. I want my hockey. But dragging this out will impact the quality of the on-ice product. Rip the band-aid off. Just resume with a virtual draft the way the NFL did.