NHL The Latest League To Push Back Possible Restart Of Season
The NHL "significantly pushed back its timeline of when it can potentially resume playing by several weeks, if not a month or more," as a result of the coronavirus, according to Wawrow & Whyno of the AP. The NHL also "cautioned that it will not be able to even provide guidance on the potential reopening of team practices for another 45 days, which could push any potential return to play into May." Under the new timeline, it would "mean facilities would not be opened until late April at the earliest." The NHL said “depending on world developments,” consideration will be given to reopening facilities after the self-quarantine period ends in late March (AP, 3/16). In Las Vegas, Gotz & Schoen note the league "hopes to allow teams to hold camps 45 days into" the CDC's recommended eight-week ban on mass gatherings. Eight weeks from the CDC’s recommendation is May 10. That means camps "could start in late April or early May, but getting all players back could be tricky." Canada "closed its border to noncitizens and nonresidents Monday, with exceptions that include U.S. citizens." That means European NHLers "will not be permitted to enter Canada for the foreseeable future." The NHL has seven Canadian teams, and European players on those squads could now face "challenges rejoining their clubs, and opposing teams could face issues traveling to Canada" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 3/17).
CAN LORD STANLEY'S CUP BE SAVED? In Boston, Matt Porter writes it is "doubtful the regular season can be saved." However, in announcing the leaguewide pause last Thursday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that he "hoped to award the Stanley Cup." Bettman reiterated that hope yesterday, saying in a SiriusXM interview that “whatever we do will have a credibility and integrity to it.” He also said that there is a "point on the calendar where the NHL will not be able to finish this season, but did not offer a firm date" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/17). In St. Louis, Jim Thomas notes at this point it is "possible the remainder of the season could be canceled altogether," but the NHL "hasn’t backed down from its intention to award a Stanley Cup." However, it is "clear the NHL is running out of runway in terms of finishing out this season." Bettman: “We haven’t ruled anything in or anything out. Other than it’s got to be the right thing in terms of the well-being of our players and our fans" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/17). NHL Network's Elliotte Friedman noted "nobody" in the NHL wants the league to still be playing once the Tokyo Games begin, if they start on schedule. Friedman said, "The Olympics are the biggest event in the world. ... You don't want to go head-to-head with that." Should the Games not take place in late July as planned, some officials might "kind of wonder" about playing that late into the summer ("NHL Tonight," NHL Network, 3/16). However, the NATIONAL POST's Robert Tychkowski writes, "You have to wonder if, in allowing players to fan out across North America and the world, the NHL isn’t bracing itself for the stark realization that hockey isn’t coming back this year" (NATIONAL POST, 3/17).
LOOKING AT EXPANDED PLAYOFFS? TSN's Bob McKenzie said finishing the regular season “is not going to happen" with the new timeline in place. McKenzie added that a 24-team playoff, instead of 16, with "some kind of a play-in format could be a possibility, taking into account teams that were on the postseason bubble and giving them a chance" (MONTREAL GAZETTE, 3/17). TSN's Darren Dreger also said the league is "considering no regular season games and perhaps differing playoff formulas." The 24-team playoff idea has been a "hot" topic. TSN's Gino Reda added, "In fairness to the league, this is the plan right now ... (but) as we've seen already, the landscape shifts almost on a daily basis" ("That's Hockey," TSN, 3/16).