NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 02: A masked pedestrian makes their way past Madison Square Garden on April 02, 2020 in New York City. Currently, over 92,000 people in New York state have tested positive for COVID-19.
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL may have to face the harsh reality of canceling the remainder of the 2019-20 and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Frank Curto

The National Hockey League “paused” their 2019-20 season on March 13 with the hope of, at the very least, crowning a Stanley Cup champion sometime during the summer.

Players have been self quarantined since the pause which means they have not skated for about a month’s time. They have been working out at home when they can, but the truth becomes clearer every day that passes—this season is in jeopardy.

Difficult to see a path to completing the season

Earlier in April, the league asked for the arena availability of all 31 teams for the month of August. Presumably, this request led many to believe the NHL would play the Stanley Cup Playoffs in August after having some sort of pre-playoff training camp.

The issue, acknowledged by Gary Bettman in an interview with the NBC Sports Network is how to have the playoffs with an incomplete regular season.

“We also have issues about if we get to play a playoff, who gets in if we can’t complete the regular season, ” Bettman said via Yahoo.

Some teams, like the New York Rangers, for example, have played 70 of an 82-game season and are two points out of a wild card spot. The incomplete season would prevent the Rangers from making the playoffs with the current standings.

Other issues come with “stay at home” orders issued by the different state governments. The NHL has no way of foreseeing how the COVID-19 virus will spread, which means some states could lift “stay at home” orders earlier than others.

Canada has had its own issues with the virus. Toronto announced that there would be no large gathering or crowds until June 30 (though that province has stated the rule would not include sporting events).

Calgary, Alberta upped that announcement saying late last week they would enforce the same law as Toronto but it would include all sporting events as well. This could be problematic for the NHL’s August timeline.

Bettman’s comments and concerns to complete the season

The commissioner of the NHL addressed his concerns concerning a resumption of the season, with little answers to the situation with May two weeks away.

“The best thing, and the easiest thing, would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do,” Bettman said. “…It doesn’t even pay to speculate because nobody in any of the sports knows enough now to make those profound decisions.”

“From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options,” Bettman continued. “We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light — and the green light may not be crystal clear because there may still be some places where we can’t play and others places where you can. We’re looking at all options. Nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out.

So it appears the league will remain in a wait-and-see mode. The NHL has closed no doors with regards to possible ways to restart the season.

A one-venue playoff, such as the one MLB has been talking about, could be an option, but the league must first determine a few things:

  • Can they complete the regular season?
  • Do they expand the playoffs to more teams since there would be an unbalanced schedule?
  • Is there enough time for a “training camp”?
  • A season going beyond June would result in a restructuring of all player contracts.
  • Free agency would be delayed as well as the NHL Draft.

The most important factor to consider would be the start of the 2020-21 season. The NHL has to be mindful of how a potential 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs would impact the start of next season.

Any conclusion of this season will affect the start of the next season. A delay by a month can be manageable.

The league could still do an 82-game season by eliminating the NHL All-Star weekend and bypassing the bye week for each team (which would have to be agreed upon with the NHLPA).

An unusual time for the NHL, it’s players and their fans.

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