By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
In a time when everything is an uncertainty, it’s certainly important to remain proactive in finding the best solutions for returning to normalcy whenever it is deemed appropriate.
The Coronavirus crisis has put a spot to essentially all major sports. It was just one week ago that the NHL joined the other leagues in putting a halt to play in the 2019-20 regular season and emphasizing the importance of staying home, staying safe and staying healthy.
That doesn’t mean that the NHL isn’t already starting to try to map something out based on whatever the CDC recommends moving forward. They have certainly kept things fluid.
A week ago, when the only decision possible was a suspension of the season, commissioner Gary Bettman put the season on hold with the possibility of evaluating everything in another two weeks. Later in the week, when the CDC’s new recommendation was to avoid groups of 50 or more and eventually 10 or more for the foreseeable future, the goal shifted to hopefully having training camps start back up in about 60 days. Even that seems like a longshot.
Essentially, if the 2019-20 season is to be saved, this is the players’ offseason. They seem to realize it too. The players has spitballed a possible return plan that allows the completion of the 2019-20 season in full before starting with the new season.
The proposal outlines that the NHL would return in early July with a brief training camp period before continuing and finishing out the regular season in late July. August and September would be designated as months to complete the playoffs and award the Stanley Cup. Then the league would hold offseason events like the draft and free agency in October before starting everything back up in November with the 2020-21 season on a brief delay.
On the surface, it is certainly a viable plan. Players would have off from March until July, about the same period they would get during a typical offseason. Not every team would be playing into September either, only the ones making a deep playoff run, so even then it’s not much of a sacrifice to most teams to extend the season.
The question is how realistic is it that everyone will agree to this plan? Bettman has said that there is a date that would be considered the point of no return on this season, but would not publicly reveal that. Is it Memorial Day? Is it sooner than that?
One of the keys to Bettman’s evaluation process in determining if and when the league will return is finding a way to award the Stanley Cup with the integrity it deserves. It’s going to be hard to do that without allowing teams to reach a common number of regular season games, playing out the playoffs in the current structure as it is and having one final series of possibly seven games to determine a champion. It’s also going to be hard to do that as the months shift. A delay that pushes the final games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs back to July is really not a pressing matter. All in all, it’s roughly a two or three week delay at most and many teams would be able to live with that. But to do this in mid-August and potentially rush through the offseason activities or try to jump right back into play in a matter of weeks just doesn’t sound nearly as realistic, especially when a lot of the other minor leagues in the game have already pulled the plug entirely on the remainder of the season.
With everything in a holding pattern for roughly two more months at least, there is going to come a point, sooner rather than later, where the question only grows. Is it just best to cancel the rest of the 2019-20 season and focus the attention on 2020-21 and playing that season to its fullest? What seemed so far from people’s minds two weeks ago is very much at the forefront now.