Sources: NHL Makes Progress On 24-Team Format Upon Eventual Return
Progress was made this weekend "on a 24-team format for return to play" for the NHL, though there "remains work to be done, and nobody involved is ready to say 100 percent where this is headed," according to sources cited by Pierre LeBrun of THE ATHLETIC. The format "doesn’t go straight to the playoffs but involves games in some form before-hand," something the players "would have pushed for." While things "may yet change again," there is a "clear sense that both sides are closer on what a season resumption may look like." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has a regularly scheduled call with the BOG this afternoon, but it is unclear whether he will have a "tentative return to play format to share," as there may be "further work needed on it from the Return to Play committee the rest of the week" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/17). In N.Y., Larry Brooks was critical of people speculating that a 24-team postseason "might be lacking in the integrity department." Brooks wrote, "If the NHL comes back this summer, it will need to make a splash beyond the curiosity factor. It will need the New York, Chicago and Montreal markets. It will need to energize as wide a swatch of the fan base as possible" (N.Y. POST, 5/17).
HOPEFUL OF A RETURN: Stars Owner Tom Gaglardi said that hockey "will return this summer if COVID-19 testing is available to everyone in the picture." He said of returning to action soon, "There's a very high likelihood. ... The league is determined to complete the season, and I would concur that not finishing the season is not on [Bettman's] mind at all. I expect we will play the season. I think we're down to logistics. I keep saying it, people that talk to me are tired of hearing it, but it really comes down to being able to test -- effectively test on a timely basis." In Denver, Mike Chambers noted Bettman "might be gaining fans with his 'Pollyanna'-type optimism about restarting the 2019-20 season." However, at the same time, Bettman "could just be playing politics -- assuring the public he has considered all avenues of a return while knowing there is little or no chance" (DENVER POST, 5/16).
LEAGUE SHOWING ITS TRUE COLORS: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes the fact that playing beyond Canada Day -- July 1 -- is "something Bettman and his owners are seriously considering just shows how desperate they are getting to find a way to 'complete' the 2019-20 campaign, particularly in a way that satisfies their broadcast partners." The NHL "loves to talk about tradition when it fits their commercial purposes, but the status of what was once beloved as a winter game was altered long ago by growth into southern climes and now stands to be further twisted by holding the most important games in deep summer." Cox: "Be assured that whatever the league is planning, it is most definitely not primarily in the interest of hockey fans" (TORONTO STAR, 5/18).
NOT A FAN OF THE PLAN: Capitals D Radko Gudas cited players' health concerns and said that the NHL "should cancel the rest of its season." Gudas said, "It's a bit sad they are willing to risk the health of so many players for money." Gudas said that staying in a hotel room for the summer was a "way to end up with depression" and a "step into one's personal freedom" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/16).