It’s been just over two months since the NHL joined the other major leagues in putting a halt to play in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while there are still more questions than answers at this point about how it will happen, commissioner Gary Bettman is determined to have the season come to an end with the traditional awarding of the Stanley Cup.
As a guest on a virtual town hall held by the San Jose Sharks for members of its business alliance, Bettman discussed the possibility of the season being cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
Bettman said it’s “not something I’m even contemplating,” according to an article in The Mercury News. “I believe that if the right time comes, and the right circumstances, based on all of the options that we’re considering and our ability to execute them, we’ll get this season done.
“I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution. That means you stop working hard to do all of the things that we’re doing, and I ultimately believe that there will be an opportunity.”
“States are re-opening, cities are re-opening and if we do the right things, I think we’ll be able to finish the season.”
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, also offered some thoughts on the possibility to resume in an interview with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic on Tuesday.
“I think there’s some optimism,” Daly said. “The trending is positive right now in most of our markets. We have businesses and economies opening up and that’s a good thing. Don’t know yet what it means to us. But we’re going in a positive direction.”
The NHL and NHL Players Association is working regularly to find solutions to a number of questions, notably when they can begin Phase 2 of a return process, how the NHL Draft could take place and what the playoff scenario will be in the event of a shortened season. Daly addressed all of these.
One detail that has gotten a lot of buzz lately has been the decision to modify the playoffs to complete the season. There have been rumors of a 24-team playoff format being used to allow all teams in contention of a playoff spot at the time of stoppage the opportunity to compete for the chance to win the Stanley Cup, but Daly cautions taking anything as concrete at this point.
“I’d be careful about cementing anything in your mind at this point,” Daly said. “There’s been a lot of discussion about a lot of different formats. A lot of different variations. Because we haven’t made any decisions. That’s why I’d be careful cementing any one scenario over any other right now.”
There had been talks about a potential July return for game play, but again, Daly cautioned against any firm dates.
“I wouldn’t go there,” Daly said. “We haven’t even moved into our contemplated Phase 2 yet. So until we do that, and from there, we have training camp, I think it’s a little bit too early to be handicapping when we might be playing games. Certainly, I have a best case and a worst case in my mind, but that’s not something that needs to be shared publicly at this point.”
Phase 2 is obviously the next most important step, and LeBrun did report that Daly confirmed that over the next month, Phase 2 should begin. The hope was to start Phase 2 of a return -- getting players back to their training facilities in small groups -- around mid-to-late May.
Another topic of conversation is the NHL Draft. The draft is traditionally scheduled around 10-to-14 days after the Stanley Cup Final and this year was set to be held on June 26 and 27. The event was initially postponed and it has already been determined that no matter when the event is held, it will be done virtually.
The big question is whether to move it up to still be in June or to wait until the completion of the season. Waiting for the completion of the season could push the draft back as far as November. Having it in June will limit GMs and their typical draft-day capabilities, such as making draft day trades that involve NHL players to alleviate cap space or to make significant jumps in draft position.
At the beginning of May, it seemed like the NHL was going to push an early June date for the draft on the rest of the league, giving them a month to prepare for a new date. With May now nearly half over, there has been no formal announcement, which makes it more likely that any draft date in June will be closer to the original date. Daly also addressed this ongoing discussion.
“It’s one of a number of things we are working on,” Daly said. “And when I say working on, when we’re talking to the clubs we’re discussing it in more detail. We want to understand their concerns, we want to understand the pros and the cons. So there’s no rush on our end. Particularly with where we think the earliest we can play in, we have a window to fit the draft in if we wanted to go in that direction. And when we get to the end of that process, whenever that is, we’ll make a decision. But we’re not there yet. I do anticipate, obviously, at some point, whether it’s this week or next week, probably more likely next week, you’re going to have to make a decision. But nothing is imminent.”
For now, there is not much different for the NHL than the rest of the world. It’s a big waiting game to see when this process can get off the ground and when returning to play can feel a lot closer than it does right now. It sure seems like the next piece of news that will be available will be the decision of having the draft in June or waiting for an official offseason, whenever that is.
Otherwise, there will be waiting for word that players can go back to train and skate and get going again in hopes of completing this season.