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The NHL is doing everything it can to hand out the Stanley Cup, but the league should start thinking about the 2020-21 season instead.

Frank Curto

The NHL has been shut down for over six weeks. Players have gone home, internationally and domestically, with little ability to keep themselves in game shape as the league and world wait for this pandemic to end.

Since the “pause” in the schedule, commissioner Gary Bettman and his staff have been trying to forecast how the remainder of the season will play out. Nothing is off the board with regards to ideas and suggestions on how to complete the season.

The players and the league, for now, seem optimistic that a Stanley Cup champion will be crowned.

Is this the best thing for the NHL? Obviously, the league will lose a ton of money if they decide to cancel the season and look ahead toward the 2020-21 season. That’s a lot of boxes of pasta to leave on the table.

Playing for a Stanley Cup or for Money?

Hockey has the greatest trophy awarded at the end of its season. The Stanley Cup is one of the oldest traditions in any sport. The parade of players skating around the ice after winning the championship is like no other. Teams and players’ names are engraved on the Cup for an everlasting memory in NHL history.

The NHL obviously wants to continue to award a championship, but honestly, they want to get all the money they possibly can in a lost season.

The NHL had considered playing games at neutral sites when they returned. This idea seemed to be erased per a report by SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman on Tuesday night.

It now appears the league has an idea to complete the regular season prior to starting the playoffs. The league has completed about 85% of the season prior to the pause so completing the regular season would keep the balance of teams heading to the playoffs intact.

A 24-team playoff has been a popular idea circulating social media if the league determines they aren’t able to complete the regular season.

Friedman reported the NHL is now contemplating breaking the teams into four divisions. “One NHL city per division to resume the season. Teams from that division would be brought to this location. And, it sounds like the plan is to complete the regular season — if possible. One idea, a triple-header per day at each location to get it done in three weeks. The players have to agree.”

The premise here is that the current conferences, divisions, and standings would be reconfirmed. Teams would stay in one city and complete their scheduled with limited or no fan attendance.

What hasn’t been talked about much is COVID-19 testing. In each of the four cities, there would be a tremendous amount of people in close proximity to one another. Trainers, players, on-ice officials, television broadcasters all would have to live a life of quarantined hockey for up to two months or longer if a mini training camp will be conducted at these sites.

Everyone will have to submit to testing to make sure the spread of the virus is controlled. Though there has been no medical advice on how often the people involved in this need to be tested, is it fair to administer these tests to play a sport when so many people in our country are struggling to find testing right now?

Hotels and living arrangements have to be worked out. The NHL and the four states/provinces where games might be held will have to have space and availability based on their “stay at home” laws that were invoked.

NHL Draft, Free Agency & Contracts

The NHL is now considering having the 2020 NHL Entry Draft prior to the end of the season. Regardless of what you may read or see, the NHL is seeing the coverage the NFL draft received leading up to their draft and is looking to grab some of the fun.

This is such a bad idea in so many ways.

  • The draft order is determined by a completed season with the exception of the lottery. Holding the draft without even completion of the regular season alters who can participate in the lottery.
  • Previous trades made with “conditional draft picks” are determined based on where teams conclude the season.
  • Contracts, and not only player contracts, but team staff as well. Executives and scouts contracts could expire before the summer begins.

On the topic of contracts, legal ramifications on player contracts that expire June 30 and those who are eligible to be a free agent on July 1. All of these contracts would need to be extended for the summer hockey league.

The NHL and the NHLPA would have to amend the current CBA for this to take effect. Players’ health insurance, current players who were bought out previously and all open contract disputes will need to be adjusted prior to any player taking the ice.

Player salaries and escrow payments have been altered to help ease possible payments next season. The NHL has not announced how the salary cap will be impacted next season, but the expectations are the cap will be lower since revenue this season is down.

Doesn’t make sense

We need sports to come back. What must be avoided is sacrificing the health and safety of everyone involved along with not helping the people who need testing medical services.

The NHL has to preserve a full 2020-21 season which means they should not try to save this year if it puts next season in jeopardy.

This just skims the top of the proverbial return to the hockey scenario.

The most important point in many’s minds has not been asked: What happens when the first person at a neutral site area tests positive? This could all collapse before it starts.

The NHL needs to do what it has been so good at and look out for its fans.  As much as it hurts to read this the league needs to shut down the remainder of the season, regroup and get ready for next season.

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