According to multiple sources, the NHL is leaning towards holding a 24-team tournament, with each division hosting a neutral-site (Determined by COVID-19 numbers) series to crown the Stanley Cup champion if it can’t complete the 82-game regular season.
Teams played between 68 and 71 games before the 2019-2020 season was suspended because of the pandemic. There simply is not enough time to finish the regular season at this point. The 16 or 24 team tournament idea is upsetting to the NHL teams and their partners because of the lost revenue generated from the remaining 11-14 regular-season games. A 24 team tournament would eliminate only seven teams and make the regular season irrelevant.
The tournament would look like this: The Top six teams from each Division meet in one city. They would open with best-of-three series between the number one and two seeds (to decide a Division winner), while number three meets six and four meets five for the right to keep playing. That would put the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks, who earned less than a point per game, in the playoffs versus Toronto and Calgary who finished 13 and 12 points ahead of them respectively. In a best-of-three series, an awful regular season could be reversed instantaneously in an unfair way.
|2||St. Louis Blues||42-19-10||2-3||7-7||23-7-5||19-12-5|
|3||Tampa Bay Lightning||43-21-6||2-1||6-5||22-10-2||21-11-4|
|8||Vegas Golden Knights||39-24-8||3-2||6-6||22-11-4||17-13-4|
|12||Toronto Maple Leafs||36-25-9||1-5||7-4||18-9-7||18-16-2|
|13||Columbus Blue Jackets||33-22-15||0-4||8-11||20-12-4||13-10-11|
|15||New York Islanders||35-23-10||3-3||8-7||20-9-6||15-14-4|
|16||New York Rangers||37-28-5||1-2||5-3||18-16-2||19-12-3|
|26||New Jersey Devils||28-29-12||4-6||2-6||13-11-10||15-18-2|
|28||Los Angeles Kings||29-35-6||1-3||7-3||19-13-2||10-22-4|
|29||San Jose Sharks||29-36-5||2-1||5-4||17-17-2||12-19-3|
|31||Detroit Red Wings||17-49-5||3-2||1-3||12-23-2||5-26-3|
All of this has hockey fans excited about a restart of the NHL season but it is totally unrealistic. Even with commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA chief Donald Fehr working in rare harmony, this can’t and shouldn’t happen.
With the help of Sportsnet, here is why:
- It is not possible to keep anywhere from 600-1,000 people inside a COVID-19 quarantine bubble. How close are the hotels? How will you feed people? How far away are the practice rinks?
- How much time would be spent on buses, as opposed to walking, where social distance can be maintained.
- The criteria to win a bid to host games is largely based on how the city has been affected by COVID-19, which leaves out the teams in New York or New Jersey. The Governor of California has also made it clear he is not in favor of opening up sports.
- What about the travel ban? The NHL is truly a world league with many of its players and staff living beyond US borders.
- Some players would be expected to be quarantined away from their families for three months in this uncertain time.
- In Canada, Edmonton and Winnipeg would be far ahead of everyone else, based on a variety of reasons. Ottawa has had less COVID-19 cases than most major Canadian cities, but lengthy bus trips to the Kanata-based arena are seen as an issue. In Edmonton, there are enough hotels within a two-block radius of Rogers Place, as well as a practice rink attached to the complex.
- Columbus’ arena district is also considered a model. Bids are considering approaching restaurants near arenas that are currently closed to serve as “inside the bubble” restaurants for NHL personnel. Who counts as “NHL personnel?
- Rink staff — Zamboni drivers, etc. — would have to live in hotels for the duration of the tournament. As for media, would they sit high in the stands, entering and exiting the rink in a defined route? Would they get a chance to conduct press conferences post-game?
- What if a player has to go to the hospital? There’s no way around this. Any player who leaves “the bubble” to go to a hospital for an injury or whatever — or goes home for the birth of a baby — would be expected to wait out a 14-day quarantine before playing again?
- How late can they go with this plan? It seems to get later all the time. The NHL is ready to play this out into October if need be, and here is one reason why: No one wants to start the 2020-21 season in a scenario where they cannot allow fans in the building. If they’re playing with no fans, “then let’s make it the 2020 playoffs,” one person said.
The only question that Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, the sponsors, owners, players, and fans alike need answer is…Is it safe?