As we get closer and closer to May and the third month of no sports in the North American market, the NHL is conducting daily talks with owners on how and when to re-start the 2019-20 season and complete it with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought tragedy in our society and the resumption of sports may well be a welcomed and well-deserved distraction into our daily lives. The invariable question remains exactly how does the NHL think it can resume the season and finish it out with a championship?
In previous articles, ideas had been floating around that the NHL was looking at neutral sites in geographically central or isolated sites such as North Dakota. While in theory, this may sound like an interesting concept, the reality is some of the more isolated areas in the United States are now experiencing spikes in Covid-19 infection cases including meatpacking plants throughout the upper Midwest. Furthermore, using smaller college hockey arenas such as the University of North Dakota cannot handle the large-scale needs of the NHL including locker rooms and television broadcasting capabilities.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has discussed the possibility of hockey returning in July as a summer regular-season tournament with a playoff following after the conclusion of the tournament.
The needs of the NHL mean that any venue used will have to be a professional caliber facility. As multiple teams would be stationed at tournament sites, players and staff from each team would rotate in and out of locker rooms meaning thorough disinfecting would be mandatory on a continuous basis. Also, the ability of the news media to broadcast games globally would also demand that each facility have these types of capabilities. The current NHL concept would call for a regional tournament set-up in the style that the NCAA uses in its “March Madness” college basketball regionals. Each division would be awarded a site where all the teams in that division would play there and then move on to a playoff site.
The NHL has discussed locations such as the following: Carolina-Metropolitan; Edmonton-Pacific; Minnesota-Central; Atlantic-to de determined.
By keeping teams and their staffs in one central location, health workers would be able to better monitor and enforce strict CDC and Public Health Canada protocols to ensure player and staff safety while still completing the season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has also set a tentative guideline for the season return with July being a possible resumption of the regular season. By waiting until at least July, the NHL and the regional sites will have reasonable time to set up the league tournament while still monitoring players’ and staff health. The completion of such a tournament and playoff this summer would also enable players to have ample time off to recover in time for the resumption of fall training camps in anticipation of the 2020-21 season.
However, the ultimate decision to resume the regular season lies not in the hands of Gary Bettman but in the medical and governmental authorities in the United States and Canada:
“The decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who are in governments at all different levels, so we’re not going to try and do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate.” – Gary Bettman, NHL.com (04/22/20)
What does the resumption of the season mean for the Devils?
Prior to the suspension of league play on March 12th, the Devils were essentially out of playoff contention. With the resumption of play this summer, some of the tournament models have discussed allowing every team a shot at the playoffs in a post-season tournament which means theoretically speaking the Devils still have a chance to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The NHL has a tall order in front of itself to be able to finish off the regular season and award the Stanley Cup to a team in the face of the crisis we are facing globally.
If the NHL can, in fact, pull this off, sports in North America could provide a beacon of hope that normalcy in our lives will return.
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