The NHL – much like the world as a whole – is currently a big mess. With team representatives, board members, players, and commissioners sitting idle at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no current agenda or schedule for the potential resumption of play. The league has made some announcements in the past weeks, and then changed those rulings, before sending out more mass communication to its teams, players and fans.
It has been a very strange past three weeks.
The original March 27th self-isolation date which had then been extended 10 days, is being extended another 10 days to April 15. The league will update as to when small group practices at training facilities will be allowed. Players will be forced to continue self-quarantine until April 15. But looking at individual teams for instance, both Toronto and Washington operated out of local jurisdictions that are not allowing public events until June 30 and June 10, respectively, so this will put a hold on their potential training much further.
Teams initially were hoping to run voluntary small group workouts prior to the proposed ‘training camp’ period 45 days into the original 60-day period of hockey shutdown, as ordered by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Those 45 days expire on April 30. During this time of uncertainty, the NHL has cut back salaries of its employees 25 percent during this dilemma to avoid potential layoffs or job cuts.
Another issue on the table is contract expiration. Hockey players contracts run through June 30th annually. Hockey is expected to be played much later than the month of June this year. Lawyers, players and the Players’ Association will need to figure out a way to sort out contract issues for when playing time re-opens. Travel and Work Visas will also need some serious adjustments prior to puck drop. Again, the league will have regular updates as information/plans change or become known.
The 2019-20 season is 85 percent complete with 189 games to be played. How playoffs will shape up is still completely in the air. The hope is to finish the regular season. Will that happen? Who knows. Now that the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed a year, hockey can be played through August. NHL has asked teams for available home game arena dates in August, after having originally been asked about July. Playoffs could be held in August or September. At this rate, October may even be in the mix.
Seven players and one team official have tested positive for COVID-19. Five play on the Ottawa Senators. All five are believed to have caught the virus while on the team’s west-coast road trip through California. 52 team members were on the trip. Eight showed symptoms of illness. All were tested. Six came back positive, with one being a team official. They have all been in quarantine since returning home and are currently are in good health. The other two affected players belong to the Colorado Avalanche organization. They too are in good health.
Mass testing will not occur for players. It is pointless and a waste of resources/time for doctors and local front-line workers, not to mention the potential exposure for the players and/or families. The league has provided instruction to the players that they can and should return to their home cities/countries/continents. The only COVID-19 testing that will occur should be if the player shows symptoms of the virus.
Both NHL Commissioner and NHLPA Governor Bill Daly have insinuated that the 2020-21 season will be a full 82-game season with a full four-round, best-of-seven style postseason. Will it be at a later start? Most likely. Whether or not the 2019-20 season is picked back up at all is now the biggest question across the continent.
Another potential option for resume of play would see a centralization of sorts, where all NHL teams converge in one unaffected area of Canada/USA and play out the remainder of the season/postseason in front of empty arenas. Other suggestions include a shorter postseason, a buy-in scenario for teams currently sitting on the bubble, as well as cutting the remainder of the regular season and jumping right into playoffs, featuring best-of-three or best-of-five matchups.
We don’t know much, but we do know that the league as a whole continues to combat the Coronavirus, while following orders and instructions from governing health authorities. This pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone, even those heavily involved in professional sports.