So this week has been a whirlwind for the National Hockey League as they continue to press to return to award the Stanley Cup in 2020. While a lot of information is from the past few days, it was felt to be best served in one big article as information is constantly changing on what seems to be an hourly basis. I have broken all of the topics down into sections, so if there is specific topics you’re looking for that I’m covering, please feel free to scroll and look for the large headline for that topic.
So starting off we have the Hub Cities, and this has been a revolving door of information and uncertainty. However, it looks like we have our two cities locked down as it will be Edmonton and Toronto as the hubs. Now originally Vegas was going to be one, but due to COVID-19 spiking in the state, it removed Vegas from contention, and Vancouver looked like a highly considered candidate until the Health Administrator for British Columbia vetoed that after not getting the information that they desired to satisfy making Vancouver a hub city.
So for Edmonton and Toronto, they will be tasked with the daunting duty of creating a bubble atmosphere that will protect the players, coaches, and all additional staff that will be required to pull this off.
With the question of the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals, and which hub city would host between the two, it is looking more like Edmonton would hold that distinction, unless something changes as things have, and often.
What Happens if an Outbreak Occurs?
If an outbreak were to occur in one of the hub cities, it’ll most likely be business as usual as both Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and Commissioner Gary Bettman have stated in the past. It’s also very evident that despite how much of a negative affect it would have on the tournament they’re going to force this through to completion.
I mean let’s be serious. When Tampa Bay had to shut down their training facility for five days due to three players and two staff members testing positive, the NHL still expanded the Phase 2 voluntary on-ice training from six players to 12 while that was a major issue. It’s clear the NHL doesn’t care and they want to award the
COVID Stanley Cup at all costs.
CBA and RTP
So one of the biggest things coming out of this whole conversation is that the whole Return to Play plan is going to be part of the new CBA as well. Both will be voted on by the players, and will need a simple majority to be approved.
Phase 3 and 4 of the RTP protocols will include a penalty free opt-out clause for players who don’t feel comfortable playing due to family or health reasons (i.e underlying health conditions). We’ve already seen players in both the NBA and MLB opting out for such reasons.
Based on reports from Eric Engels, Bob McKenzie, Chris Johnston, Elliote Freidman, and other noteworthy insiders, there is a lot of concern from the players about returning to play during this pandemic, and the NHLPA has not been very straight forward with the players and have mostly focused on the financial situation rather than the health and safety of everyone.
So something that has come out of the CBA talks is about a path to the NHL possibly returning to the Olympics, and this is just stupid. While I understand how much the players would love to play in the Olympics and represent their countries, it’s just a really horrible idea.
For one, if you do the 2022 Winter Games in China, you’re shutting down the league for the entire month of February for games that no one is going to be able to watch because of the massive time zone differences. And for those do watch are doing it at their own sleep deprived choosing.
Secondly, NBC owns the rights to all of the Olympic footage and has never given the NHL the rights to air or use the footage, so they can’t use it to promote the players or the game with it. Now if NBC were to make a deal with the NHL to allow them to use the footage to help grow the game globally then this would be a different conversation to an extent.
Lastly, why are you going to shut down the league for a month only for a few to go play? It’s stupid and it really messes with the flow of the season and puts those that do play at risk. Also you’re coming back to having what could potentially be your first normal season since this pandemic started, and you want to screw it up with the Olympics. No thank you. Of course all of this depends on negotiations with the International Olympic Committee in regards to insurance, travel and other issues, and we know how that usually goes.
The Next Two to Three Seasons
So the next two to three seasons are going to be very interesting depending on how things play out over the next few days, weeks, and months. First we’ll talk about the CBA portion.
According to sources the Salary Cap is going to remain at $81.5 million, as it was this past season, for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. Player Escrow will be capped at 20 percent for those two seasons, and players pay would be delinked from the overall revenues for those next two seasons as well. It is also noted that the players would have 10 percent of their salaries for next season deferred to a later date. Contract structures in regards to limits on how much can be paid in signing bonuses, and other restrictions on salary variance from year to year can be built.
Now for the actual seasons. So it’s been rumored that for this tournament that the Qualifying and First Rounds we could see triple headers to help get through games a bit faster on the schedule, and then the Second Round, Conference, and Stanley Cup Finals would be played more normal while in a more condensed schedule, and with the hopes of having the Stanley Cup awarded no later than October 5th. Now things can still change and this tournament could still not happen, but as evident so far, it’s going to happen through hell or high water. So say the tournament does happen, what happens next?
October and November would be used as the offseason for the NHL. It has already been agreed to in interim, and will become official once the new CBA is ratified , that the player contracts that were going to expire on June 30th will now expire on October 31st making November 1st Free Agent Frenzy Day, I knew these last few days have felt off. December would be used to have Training Camp, and this is where it gets a bit dicey. So depending on how long they decide to do Training Camp could determine when the season starts. Do they do a two week or a three week camp? I don’t know, but one thing for sure…
There is a Theory Floating Around
The theory floating around is that the NHL believes they can’t start the 2020-21 season unless they can have fans in the arena, and what a better way to start the season then on January 1st, 2021 with the Winter Classic. It would be a pure spectacle, and that would be the point. The first regular season game of the 2020-21 season being played outdoors, and with fans in the stands. It would be grand way of opening the season, that is of course fans are allowed back to attending sporting events.
Back to the Next Two to Three Seasons
So with that theory out of the way let’s really take a look at the next two, possibly three, seasons. We already know what the Salary Cap is going to look like, but the first regular season back is going to be a tough one. With Bettman insisting on playing a full 82 games season I’m not 100 percent sure how that’s going to work if the season were to start on January 1st. If starting in January you’d probably need to reduce the schedule to at least 60 games, and most games would need to be played within your own division and conference to help cut down on travel costs. Also it’s already a given that the All Star Break and the bye weeks would not happen to help condense the schedule as well. A 60 game schedule starting in January could in theory get the season finished in time by the first week of April and have the playoffs start on time and have the Stanley Cup awarded in early June so you can have the Expansion Draft and the NHL Draft take place in their regularly scheduled manner. Now please note that a 82 game season in a matter of three and a half months could be very strenuous on the players and with such a shorter layoff could result in more injuries taking place, hence why I say go with a sixty game season. You can play 20 games in each of January, February, and March/April. It would be perfect.
So say they go with that to have everything end on time in June so Free Agency can take place starting July 1st, and now the 2021-22 season can start on time with Training Camps opening in September, and the regular season opening in October like normal. Now as mentioned above, there is the possibility of shutting the league down for the Olympics, and I’ve already stated why that would not be a good idea. Well here’s another reason why. It’s the inaugural season of the new Seattle franchise, and it would be a bad look to bring in this new franchise, and then midway through the season shut things down for the Olympics. You want to be showcasing this new franchise like they did three seasons ago with Vegas. You don’t want to take that away from them in their first season because of the Olympics. But yea, you can have your first real 82 game season in 2021-22 and have things go back to normal.
As for the 2022-23 season, hopefully by the time we get there things will truly be back to normal, but only time will tell.
If you’re still here, I applaud you. There is a lot to take in and I hope I was able to make it as easy as possible for you to digest it. Also please note that by the time that this publishes a lot could have changed, but I tried to keep it as accurate as possible.
My final thoughts is this. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done that can guarantee that this tournament can be played with everyone staying safe, and preventing the worse case scenario of a full blown outbreak in a hub city. Hopefully in the very near future we can learn more about the testing protocols, which I left out on purpose, so we can have a better understanding on it.