The NHL, still attached to its hopes of ending the season – and still clinging to fan money as long as it classifies matches as postponed rather than canceled – extended its recommendation for self-quarantine until April 30 . This means that hockey will only return before mid-May if possible, dangerously close to the point where it would be wise to lock the Zamboni until next season.
Perhaps this moment has already arrived. But there remains a reasonable option before the ice melts: abandon the rest of the regular season.
Cancel the remaining games, around 15% of the schedule, so ticket holders can collect their money to buy the necessities. Cancel these games so teams that have been eliminated don’t have to go through a training camp prank to play a dozen games just so Commissioner Gary Bettman can say the season is over.
Forget the idea of a play-in tournament for teams that were not in the playoffs as this would devalue the regular season games that were played. Go straight to the Stanley Cup Playoffs if you have to go, with point percentage qualifications, as the teams played a variable number of games when Bettman stopped playing on March 12 due to the COVID pandemic- 19.
The latest extension to the league’s recommendation for home support, announced on Tuesday, was the third delay. In a one-paragraph statement, the league said that after consulting with medical experts and representatives from the NHL Players’ Assn., It had “made the decision to extend the recommendation for self-quarantine for players from NHL, coaches and hockey staff through and including Thursday April 30. The auto-quarantine was in place until April 15. “
The decision was not a surprise and was not final. It couldn’t be. There are still too many unknowns to set firm target dates, even for a gradual return to something that resembles normalcy.
Shortly after the NHL postponed his potential return, California Governor Gavin Newsom threw a veil over the notion of sports return in the near future when he said it was unlikely big events can resume this summer. “The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we come to collective immunity and a vaccine,” he said at a press conference.
President Trump said on Tuesday that he has appointed the commissioners of major sports leagues as well as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft to a committee to guide the reopening from the country. This reopening will likely be led by these leagues. “We have to resume our sports. I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old, “said Trump in his daily press briefing.
In the case of the NHL, which risks missing about $ 1 billion in revenue if it cannot resume, teams were asked to provide potential home dates in August. Why Bettman considers the season sacred is a mystery, given that he wiped out the entire 2004-05 season in a labor dispute. Ending in July would be quite late but could be possible with a condensed playoff format, perhaps with the first two rounds as the best of five and the last two as the best of seven.
The training camp for next season could be shortened and the opening of 2020-2021 has been delayed by a few weeks. Eliminate weeks off and schedule gaps and a “normal” cycle could resume.
Speaking to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday, Bettman agreed that players would need two or three weeks of training camp before competition resumes. If the restrictions imposed on the various states on rallies are relaxed on May 1, this means that the NHL could not return before May 15. There are also Canadian guidelines to consider, as well as potential immigration issues for players who have gone abroad to wait for this.
“Until there is a feeling that people can come together, not only to fill our arenas but also for our players to come together to practice, we don’t know when we can come back,” said Bettman at CNN. “We are exploring and want to be ready for each option, whenever the circumstances arise. So, we have excluded nothing, we have excluded nothing and we will be ready to go in the direction that made sense at the time. “
Bettman acknowledged that the NHL had considered neutral venues such as Grand Forks, N.D., which is home to the small but impressive Ralph Engelstad Arena. “The point is that when you are in the position where we are all, you have to be ready to raise when the opportunity arises, which means that you should not rule out any imaginable alternative and be prepared for everyone, even if some of them turn out to be unrealistic, ”he said.
Grand Forks is not realistic as a site for 16 teams in the first round. It is unfair to ask players to live in a bubble outside of their family, similar to an option that is rumored to put all Major League Baseball teams in Arizona. Hosting games in NHL cities in empty arenas, a step the NHL was ready to take before learning that the NBA had closed due to positive COVID-19 test by Utah jazz player Rudy Gobert, remains a possibility, but it would be a hollow replacement for the real thing.
And so we are waiting, at least until April 30 and probably beyond. Ideally, NHL leaders and their NHLPA counterparts will use this time to discuss ways to improve the game and continue to keep fans engaged after this step is completed. In the meantime, there are old games to watch. Many of them are quite entertaining.