Around the League

On restarting the NHL season: Is anyone actually thinking beyond money?

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.

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  • I think a lot depends on whether the scientific community can come to some sort of agreement about Covid-19, its’ treatment, etc. There may be a 2nd wave, but if over 60% of the population has been exposed already then we’re close to reaching “herd immunity” levels. I’m not sure the issue with Covid-19 is the illness itself as opposed to the medical system being overwhelmed and breaking down causing many more deaths than necessary.

  • “For the owners, this is all about the money”. Well, no. It is easy to denounce those you disagree with by ascribing to them their most objectionable motive — but the owners, like the players incidentally, have both good and bad motives.

    It is also important to note that you have a distorted perspective on this thing. Covid-19 has been hard on NY, but in places like Texas, it is easy to see this all as an overreaction and want to get on with our lives. Restoring sports is a way to restore normalcy. And perhaps it makes it easier to make other sacrifices. Like yours, my lens is also limited, but it is important that we take other worlds into account.

    I am less concerned about a second wave actually. I believe a good vaccine already exists – likely several although there are also bad ones. I think there are one or more that are reasonably certain to be safe. We do have to test for safety and for efficacy (although if things start to go downhill, one can use without guaranteed efficacy). I do not know how long it will take to properly manufacture a large number of doses, but I will be amazed if Covid-19 is a big deal past Thanksgiving.

    As for fairness, that never happens.

    For now, I think the owners are looking at options, which is the right way to go. It is hard to see that they will find a better path than abandoning the season. But i am happy to see them looking.

    • I agree with you about MOST of the owners, that said I’m not as confident regarding a “good” vaccine. Yes there are some treatments out there that look promising but it will still take months to sort all that out.

      As far as overreaction that’s the world we live in, if we’re not overreacting to a virus then we’re overreacting to illegal immigrants — basically anything we might fear. I mean we use to get rain, now we have rain events and potential flooding … we use to get some snow, now we get the dreaded Nor’easter.

      We’re probably quickly approaching the point where more people have been infected with the virus than not (that would actually be a good thing), but without testing it’s at best a guesstimate. So the focus should be in getting most everybody tested — and going on from there.

  • Dude’s on different teams that are way out of the race are starting to speak up. It’s the bubble teams like the Nucs, Panthers, Rangers and Isle that would be force the lower teams to show up for no reasons.

    The league could go two ways that would ruin the Rangers chances: 1) Go the unexpected route and do the old playoff format aka no WC2. 2) They go straight into the playoffs with whoever already made it into the dance.

  • Sensible words, Dave. It’s bad faith on the owners’ part that they are publicly airing their greed-based desire to return, they’re trying to set it up so the players take 100% of the blame when they refuse to return to the ice. If an employer can’t provide a secure workspace, no employee should take life-threatening risks on themselves, especially if they’re wealthy enough to ignore their greedy bosses and fight them in court with their union.

    In addition to teams like Anaheim and Colorado, who’ve had numerous players sickened by Covid already, I’d bet most Canadian & European players aren’t going to go along with reopening the league, either. Read Sportsnet, every day in the last week a different Canadian player has been publicly quoted as saying the owners are rushing things, and that the protection of their families during this time is their first priority.

    • Actually, I don’t think that fans are going to “blame” the players if they’re hesitant about getting back on the ice. Except for a loud minority, most people understand the situation and are more concerned about health and safety than they are about sports.

  • Unfortunately, “the quality of the product” hardly seems to be a big factor in the decision making here. The owners want the “season” to be completed, one way or another, and the playoffs to take place, no matter how dark the cloud they’re under, and financial considerations are certainly a big part of that. The players, on the other hand, have a greater interest in the health concerns, although I’m sure that some have valid issues regarding contractual bonuses, etc., that they want resolved. No matter how I look at it, the conclusion of this season and the 2020 playoffs are always going to be tagged with an asterisk, no matter what’s decided. To me, we won’t see real hockey again until next season, whenever that starts.

  • Teams and players have worked hard to get into playoff contention but Safety is of the utmost concern. If they decide to go ahead and play I would suggest no more regular season BUT i would structure the playoffs as follows:
    Top 2 from each division get byes then teams 5 through 10 play Best of 3 as a play in. There you will have the same 8 teams from each conference.
    Now you go to the regular playoff system except the first round is once again Best of 3. Then the next round is Best of 5 and the last 2 rounds is best of 7. This way you are not dragging out the playoffs where injuries can occur and you won’t impact next season as much. You will also hopefully avert a second wave scenario where you might not get to finish the playoffs.
    All teams that lose the play in round will still be eligible for the Lottery.

    If there is no season left this year i would have the draft set up with 2 lottery systems: teams not finishing in Wild Card position or better will have the usual lottery and those in playoff position would have the same lottery format but positioning starts after the end of the real lottery .
    Thoughts?

  • 1. They have plans, lots of plans, they just don’t have any guidance to implement any plans.

    2. Any solution is not optimal, but you gotta do something.

    3. Players love the road trips in order to get away from the wives & girlfriends. They’re talking a great game, but they’ll have no problem doing it. Beats digging ditches.

    4. The cap might stay flat for next year, but it’s largely irrelevant. Escrow will claw back whatever shortfalls in revenue that aren’t covered in the SPC. Right now, playing games is about salvaging cash flow from TV. That keeps escrow under 30% this year and next. That keeps the lights on and the doors open, as a biz with high cash expenses and low cash income tend to go out of business rather quickly. The escrow would be tied up for years in clubs went BK.

    There’s FM language in the SPC that makes for a new paragraph 1 salary in case of a reduction in operations, something that playing behind closed doors most definitely is. It’ll be either negotiated or go before arbitration.

    If states and cities allow for games behind closed doors, players gotta play or be in breach of contract.

    5. The biggest difficulty for the Rangers is that playing away from MSG puts their tax breaks at risk. So there is a possibility that any playoff scenario will not include them.

    6. All of this to keep sponsors, advertisers, broadcasters, players and fans somewhat satisfied.

    7. Everything they are doing now will be included upon any next wave. Paragraph 17 handles the pay.

    8. Cancellation is the worst possible scenario as lawsuits would fly, cash flow would be shut off beyond season ticket renewals(which would already be hamstrung as is with 5% of last years ticket packages would be credited or refunded. Teams can’t go BK without reverting to the league, so limited partners would be facing capital calls across the league.

    But that’s just me.

  • Welcome to a capitalist society. A decision must be made as to the acceptable loss of life for the money gained. Not that I endorse that, it’s more or less just the way it is in America right now. Between the DenocRATS and the RepubliCANTs. We are pretty much between a rock and a hard place.

    Hockey should be the LAST sport to go off lockdown.

    Anyone who has spent time in a rink locker room knows it’s a petri dish. I would worry about all the players in that environment.

  • Why are you saying for the owners it’s all about the money? Don’t the players get 50% of THE MONEY! Don’t the owners need that money to pay them? This is a revenue driven league my friend and if they don’t start making money along with the rest of society you will witness a monumental collapse of this world worse then the great depression of 1929. I have lost 4 members of my family to this virus however, the world needs to start working again or the financial structure will collapse and the damage will be worse than the virus!

  • I would want some more hockey. How that happens is beyond me, but finishing the season now seems foolish.

    Create a new playoff system where the top 4 teams get a first round buy, and play the first round best of 5 at a neutral site. After that, best of 7. Choose sites where these games are played prior to them being played.

    Let there be a lottery with the last 4 teams involved. After that, just use reverse order of team leaving the playoffs..

  • We should point out here that the median age of people who die of this virus is well over 60 years old. Most of the players are in the lowest risk group as far as negative covid-19 outcomes go.

    Provisions should be made for players who are in high risk categories (diabetes, for example) but by and large the greater problems for the players are risk of injury and time away from family, etc.

    The bigger problem with resumption of hockey from a covid-19 standpoint relates to staff, workers, and – if present – fans.

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