Until the NHL returns to action from its current “pause”, most of the news will continue to revolve around when and how the league will return to play. Following a call between the league’s general managers today, the insiders at TSN had a number of updates on the possible timeline, as well as some of the major hurdles facing the NHL as it puts together a plan in this unprecedented time.
Bob McKenzie reports that the NHL has now gone one step further from an earlier report that they had requested arena availability from each team through July. McKenzie says that the potential timeline has now been extended through August, as the new request was made this week. This could line up with a popular plan among players, which would see the NHL resume their regular season in July, competing in the 2020 postseason in August and September, take October off as the “off-season” and then return for the new league year in November. A version of this plan could be in play at the NHL, who have reiterated both hope for full completion of the current regular season and playoffs as well as a commitment to a full 2020-21 season.
Of course, the possibility of playing games in July and August – important games at that – raises a key logistical issue: ice conditions. Combating the heat of the summer months would be no small task. However, Pierre LeBrun believes that it is possible for every NHL team to maintain suitable ice conditions in those warmer months. He does stipulate that it would be an expensive venture, both in manpower and in air conditioning and maintenance costs. He also adds that the most important factor would be the diligence of the team ice crews, who will have to work harder and smarter than they ever have to make sure the ice surface is playable for potential playoff games during the hottest days of the year.
The other issue with 2020 games in July and August and beyond is of the legal variety. McKenzie points out that a number of current NHL contracts are set to expire on June 30. While this date is simply a representation of the last day of the league year, it is written into contracts and would need to be amended to allow for an extended league year through the summer. He adds that work visas would also be affected, which could be an even more difficult hurdle as compared to contract terms, which can likely be handled internally through the league and players’ association.
Regardless, the league will do whatever it can to make sure that the season goes on, hopefully in full but at worst in part. Frank Seravalli relays an estimate that if the league does not resume the 2019-20 season in the summer manner, they will be facing losses of up to $1 billion. They also do not expect any insurance bailouts to help resolve the situation. This is all the incentive that the league, teams, players, and all stakeholders need to be flexible when constructing a plan to return to action. Already, the league office and many teams have begun to cut staff salary in an effort to save for possible losses, but the best way to avoid a potential billion-dollar gouge is to somehow find a way to complete the season with as many games, regular and playoff, as possible.