0

News and Notes: Next steps in NHL’s return-to-play planning, players discuss isolation, and more

Over the weekend, the NHLPA voted heavily in favour of accepting a 24-team playoff format in the event the NHL resumes the 2019-20 season later this summer. This is just a very small step forward to getting the league going and there are some large, complicated hurdles left to overcome.

While the 24-team format was passed with a 29-to-2 vote (in which Carolina and Tampa Bay voted no), the next vote, which will be on accepting the details and logistics for a summer playoff tournament proposed by the league, could be more contentious.

Michael Russo, a Minnesota Wild reporter with The Athletic, spoke with Devan Dubnyk, who has plenty of experience representing his teammates on the NHL Players’ Association’s executive board. Dubnyk said that the yes vote was for the 24-team format, and another vote, perhaps one involving as many as 700 players, will be needed to pass through things like logistics, cities, travel, testing, and economics.

“I think it’s really important to start having these conversations with as many players as we can about, ‘Guys, what scenarios are we OK with?’” Dubnyk said. “From what it sounds like, it’s going to be some sort of hub city scenario, so we’ve got to talk about that. How long are guys OK with being away for? When we are in this city, are we locked in our hotel room? Going from the hotel room to the rink and back only, are guys OK with just doing that? Can our families come with us, or if there’s a family emergency and we leave the bubble (to go back into society), can we return to the bubble or are we done? What’s the food situation? Like, can we only eat in our hotel rooms? How often are we tested? Who pays for that? What’s the damage economically to the sport?

Dubnyk goes on to say that it’s very uncommon that there’s a circumstance in which 700 players are called upon to participate in a vote, but this might be one. Players will be voting on how they’ll live, potentially, as much as two months of their lives, so having just one vote per team representing all players might not be realistic. Older players with families will have different views on how this should go down than younger players will.

Topics such as allowing families to join the quarantine or having a break in the schedule for visiting will be among the key issues to sort out for many players.

“I think it’d be easier for guys without families or single guys to kind of go on quarantine and enjoy that process as much as you can,” Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis told CBC. “But it would be tough being a father myself. It would be tough to live through FaceTime in that situation. But you have to weigh the pros and cons on each side and what’s important for you and your family.”

With all eyes on this summer’s return-to-play scenarios, the thought of what the 2020-21 season could look like has predictably been put on the backburner. The earliest this summer’s playoffs could start would probably be mid-to-late-July, meaning the earliest point in which the Stanley Cup could be awarded would be in September. That would obviously mean that there’s zero chance the 2020-21 season could start in October as usual.

But even disregarding the execution of this summer’s playoffs, the 2020-21 season could very likely be pushed back for a different reason. According to John Shannon, based on his communication with various people inside the “NHL world,” the league won’t begin a 2020-21 season until fans are able to return to the seats.

The NHL is very gate-driven in terms of generating revenue, with tickets, concessions, and merchandise playing a major role in the league’s business. Executing a summer playoff tournament made for TV only in order to complete a season that was already 85 percent finished is one thing, but starting a brand new season under these conditions is another.

As we’re seeing with Major League Baseball’s attempt to get the 2020 season rolling, there’s a lot of strife between the players and the owners as to how much the players will be paid. The NHL, even more gate-driven than MLB, would have to balance revenue loss with the most expensive part of the operation, which is player salaries.

Personally, when push comes to shove, I can’t imagine the NHL actually going dark for an entire season in the event that fans still can’t be in stadiums next year, but a full, 82-game schedule also seems unlikely at this point.

Finally, we have news that the NHL’s Draft Lottery will be held on June 26, though there’s no word yet on when the draft will be.

We also don’t know how many teams will actually be in the lottery. The seven non-playoff teams are certainly going to be in, but Bob McKenzie is suggesting that eight more teams could also be in the lottery. That would mean that a handful of teams could feasibly win their play-in round to make it to the playoffs and still draft first-overall.