The NHL and the NHLPA have been working recently to come up with a solution to resume the 2019-20 season and find an equitable way to award the Stanley Cup this year.

As weeks have now turned into months, the possibilities of resuming and completing a regular-season prior to any type of playoff scenario is fading as delays in completing the current season threaten the timely start to the 2020-21 season.

24-Team Tournament

The Hockey News has reported that the NHL is in talks to create a 24 team tournament with the top four teams from each conference receiving a first-round bye.  The next 16 teams-which may be evenly split from each conference as well or simply the teams with the best overall records regardless of the conference – will play in a tournament after the league allows the resumption of play.  As things stand right now, the NHL is now in “Phase Two” of their isolation and social distancing policy with an eye on opening up practices to teams starting May 15th.

16-Team Tournament

After a month or so of team practices, the NHL may push to start the 16 team tournament by the end of June or early July (4th of July hockey, anyone?)  Each of the 16 teams will be paired up and possibly play a best of three series and then the top eight teams will move on to play the top-seeded teams from each conference.  The best of three series games will count as “regular season” play and then the official playoffs will begin with the 16 team tournament pitting the survivors of the 16 team round robin against the top teams from each conference.

While this plan sounds feasible at least on paper, many details have still not been ironed out between the NHL and the players’ association.

NHL officials are still planning on using four cities as tournament sites and each of these cities will be tasked with housing and caring for between 600-1,000 players, coaches, officials, team staff, and news media.

All of these individuals tied to a tournament site will have to be quarantined to a specific hotel for the duration of play and tested on an agreed-upon basis.  While the NHLPA has issued concerns with most players being away from their home arenas and of course their families, the NHL is moving forward with this concept.

Another concern that the NHL is attempting to address is the preservation of the 2020-21 regular season.  By resuming play in late June or early July, it is conceivable that the Stanley Cup finals could be played in September, a time which is normally reserved for fall training camps before the start of a new season.  The NHL, along with the NBA and Major League Baseball are all in a quandary trying to figure out how to either finish their season or start a new one.

The NHL Draft, which was originally scheduled for the end of June, has been postponed but there are now talks to hold the draft virtually-copying the relative success the NFL had in hosting their draft online.  The NHL is looking at up to 12 different cities to host the season completion and then post-season tournaments with four cities looking to be selected by the league to host the games.

Other concerns include the COVID-19 regulations posted not only in the United States and Canada but the individual states and provinces where these games will be hosted.  As some U.S. states are already moving forward with “opening up” again amid the current pandemic, state and provincial leaders will no doubt also play a part in the resumption of the NHL season amid strong public health concerns.

As we move into the warmer months and spring starts to change into summer, sports fans need to realize that we are all in uncharted territory and there is no one “correct” answer to completing or starting sports seasons.

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