It is now day 41 without hockey, and it’s fair to say that many of us are starting to go crazy. After all, when was the last time that so many of us were this excited about a basketball documentary?
Though many of us are clamoring for the season to resume, there are still some hurdles to overcome. The first, as quoted by ESPN Senior NHL Writer Greg Wyshynski, is that the NHL must receive a green light from public health authorities.
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When this happens, the NHL will need to answer several questions. Will the regular season continue? If not, how will the playoff teams be decided? Where will the games be played? Will fans be allowed to attend games? And, of course, there is the most important question: should the NHL resume play at all this season?
Perspective From the Fans
This question is a no-brainer. Even if the NHL jumps straight to the playoffs, fans of non-playoff teams would still rather watch other teams play than to have no teams play at all. Even if teams play in empty arenas, we could still watch games on television. That beats watching NHL 20 livestreams and highlights of past games.
More than ever, we all could use something to improve our spirits. Getting to watch live hockey might help.
NHL Players’ Perspective
For players, this question might be more difficult to answer. Of course, many miss the game they love, being with their teammates and are itching to get back on the ice.
But what about injured players? They were benefitting from extra recovery time without missing additional games. Nolan Patrick of the Philadelphia Flyers, for example, has missed the full 2019-20 season with a chronic migraine disorder. He has not been cleared for contact and probably will not be ready to return this season. It must be hard for him to miss so many games, and perhaps he’d like to see this season wiped clean and to get a fresh start in 2020-21.
What about players on bad teams? If the NHL jumps straight into the playoffs, their seasons would be over. If the NHL resumes the regular season, would these players want to keep playing? Before the NHL hiatus, the Detroit Red Wings had already been eliminated from playoff contention. What motivation would their players have to get back into hockey shape to play nine meaningless games?
However, most players probably want the season to resume. A small subset might be planning to retire after this season, and it would be disappointing to have their careers end this way. A larger group might have other reasons for wanting the season to resume, like competing for the Stanley Cup, continuing a career-year or setting themselves up well for free agency.
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Despite playing 66 games, Travis Konecny of the Flyers had already set a career-high with 61 points and earned his first All-Star Game appearance this season. He must be disappointed that his career year was put on hold. Meanwhile, Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin had been playing some of the best hockey of his career. As a pending unrestricted free agent, he likely wanted a few more solid performances to secure a lucrative contract this offseason.
Regardless, there is no guarantee that Konecny, Khudobin or any player would return in top shape, as the season has been paused for over a month. Sure, players train during the offseason, but this is different given that most facilities are closed and many players are practicing at home. Furthermore, like all of us, their priority is to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy, so their minds may not be ready to focus on hockey. Finally, as was the case with some Ottawa Senators, some have had to recover from COVID-19.
Each player’s situation is different. While I suspect the majority want to keep playing this season, some may wish not to.
Perspective From the League
The league might have the hardest time answering this question. On one hand, the NHL will lose a lot of money if it cancels the season.
“The leagues will have to offer networks such as CBS, Fox and NBC concessions in return for missed games. Negotiations surrounding make-goods could include anything from refunds to extra programming to the extension of deals without a price increase,”
from ‘Leagues and networks forced to reevaluate TV deals due to sports blackout,’ Fortune, 3/25/20)
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where fans can attend games this season. Without them, teams will lose money from ticket sales and in-game purchases. Additional lost revenue from TV concessions could be devastating.
If the decision is made based on financial reasons, the NHL would want to resume play in any way possible. However, they have other factors to consider.
The most important is everyone’s health and safety. The league might get the green light from public health authorities if it follows certain precautions, like enhanced coronavirus testing or possibly limiting games to one city. Nonetheless, they must decide if those precautions are enough. If the league feels that there are still risks involved, it should cancel the season.
Should the league decide to resume play, it would need to determine what the rest of the season will look like. This is no easy task, considering the logistics involved. A key question should be: How will this affect the start of next season? The league probably hopes to avoid any major disruption to next season’s schedule, so it would need to find a way to continue this season while keeping next season on track.
Then there is the matter of history. If the season is canceled, the NHL will fail to award the Stanley Cup for the first time in 15 years and just the second time since 1927. Conversely, if there is a Stanley Cup winner this season, there might be an asterisk next to it due to the likely shortened season. Neither is ideal.
The NHL has a lot to think about. Beyond, pleasing its fans, it will need to consider the broader picture and the long-term ramifications of its decision. Boy, am I glad I’m not Gary Bettman.