There are still plenty of plans out there for the NHL as it considers restarting the 2019-20 regular season that’s been paused by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s definite that the NHL and its Players Association would both like to finish the remaining month of regular-season games prior to the playoffs. It also seems both sides have agreed on a three-week training camp period (“or maybe a little less” said Bruins team president Cam Neely) after being idle since the beginning of March.
It also appears both have agreed on one designated arena for each of the four NHL divisions that would host three weeks of games, with teams playing divisional opponents to finish the regular season. According to an ESPN report, Carolina, Minnesota and Edmonton are the lead cities to host these games with the league yet to determine a viable candidate for the Atlantic Division teams.
“The [NHL] does want it to be a collaborative effort amongst the member clubs. [League executives] are not just saying this is what we’re going to do and this is how it’s going to be,” said Neely. “They really want the input from the clubs. They have talked about everything, playing in front of no fans, playing in front of a half-empty building and playing in front of a full building. What it would take.
“Obviously, it’s not just what’s going nationally but also state-by-state restrictions. So, they are looking at that. When the time comes they will look at the state restrictions and city restrictions to see what we could do. If it gets to a point where we can play hockey games without fans and get the season going, I can see the league recommending that course of action.”
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The Bruins have reportedly voiced their interest in TD Garden hosting the Atlantic Division bracket, but Boston’s status as a hotspot for the coronavirus would reasonably seem to rule that out as a possibility.
In an informative virtual town hall with Bruins season ticket holders earlier this week, Neely also essentially ruled out a couple of things that he said have never really been discussed.
Neely said the NHLPA wasn’t going to be on board for anything that would lead directly into a Stanley Cup playoff tournament without a ramp-up of regular-season games. The Hall of Fame winger also indicated that the NHL Board of Governors has never really discussed shortened playoff series, which would also seem to rule out that possibility.
“I have not heard that. I know it’s been out there in the media, but any calls with the league they have not mentioned shortening the playoff rounds at all,” said Neely. “If they are doing [regular season and playoff games] without fans, they are going to try to make it the best TV event programming possible. You might be able to see different camera angles because they’ll be able to bring the cameras down a little closer because there are no fans in the way. They’re looking at ‘How can we bring the game on the TV a little differently than we see now?’”
The idea of four rounds of playoffs with full seven-game series is exactly the return to quasi-normalcy that hockey fans are craving right now, but the name of the game is clearly doing it with the safety of players, fans and staff in mind.
The sense from the NHL and NHLPA is that there are plenty of possibilities still there to finish the regular season, complete a two-month Stanley Cup playoff and begin an 82-game regular season for 2020-21 sometime starting in November. Perhaps those tentative plans would change if things take a turn for the worse with the virus over the next month or two, but it appears the NHL is tracking for a return date to be determined over the summer.