In order to bring some sense of normalcy back into Americans’ lives in a time of chaos, fear, and tragedy, President Trump recently brought together the leaders of the various professional sports leagues with a clear message: get the players playing again.
While the NHL has been on a hiatus/suspension since last month, there have been many attempts to figure out exactly when and how the regular season will resume or if teams will simply move into the Stanley Cup playoffs when hockey does return to the ice.
One of the most interesting concepts that is floating around the NHL and the sports world lies in a very novel concept to move the rest of the season or any type of playoffs to a neutral site away from large population centers. Other leagues such as the NBA have developed an idea for a tournament, possibly in Las Vegas, while the MLB is talking about hosting a season using spring training facilities in Arizona. The NHL, however, has the most unique concept of all of the major leagues: let’s move hockey to of all states – North Dakota.
Before hockey fans start to bemoan the idea of moving the NHL out far away from fan bases, there is merit in this idea, and the NHL may just have a great plan in the making.
The state of North Dakota has one of the lowest population densities in the United States, and correspondingly has one of the lowest infection rates of COVID-19. The low population base and the fact that there are very few mid-size cities such as Grand Forks and Fargo means that North Dakota’s geography makes it a viable possibility to hold some sort of NHL tournament this summer. North Dakota lies in a geographically central location in the north-central United States and also borders Canada as well, meaning that this state is truly a “neutral” site right in the middle of North America. The city of Grand Forks is the home of the University of North Dakota, and the Ralph Engelstad Arena sits on the UND campus, meaning a top-notch hockey rink is available to the NHL.
How could the NHL pull this concept off in North Dakota this summer?
Each NHL team would first have to be quarantined in a specific hotel along with team staff until they were cleared by public health officials.
Other than playing on the ice, players, coaches, and staff from each team wouldn’t have any outside contact other than hotel employees and food service workers. At all times, the general public health would come first and foremost with player and coach health monitoring would also be of paramount importance.
More than likely, the NHL games, if played in North Dakota, would be played without crowds to help prevent any latent spread of COVID-19 to the public. Instead, the NHL could sell the television rights to each game to various sports networks in the United States and Canada. Fans across North America and the world could enjoy the completion of this season and see the Stanley Cup awarded to the top team this year.
There are, of course, many questions regarding the backing up of the 2019-20 season so close to start of the next season. A tournament-style of games in July to August could be completed and still give players time to rest up in anticipation of the next season’s training camps in September. At this point, hockey fans need to understand that the NHL is trying to finish out this season while facing a catastrophic health pandemic that changes course on a daily basis.
The return of hockey, even in the summertime, would be a welcome relief for fans and bring some sense of “normal” back to our lives, which right now is anything but normal.
If the NHL can do it, pucks will be dropped to finish out the 2019-20 season-somewhere, somehow.
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