The NHL may be forced into some creative solutions if they want to cap off the suspended 2019-20 regular season with Stanley Cup Playoffs this summer, and those kinds of plans-on-the-fly are being assembled by the league on a daily basis.
One of the more interesting plans is to hold the playoff games at designated neutral locations across the U.S. and have multiple games played Olympics-style in those empty arenas. According to reports, Grand Forks, North Dakota and Manchester, New Hampshire are a pair of sites that have been mentioned as possibilities this summer if the NHL can push for playoff games made for television without any fans in the stands.
It’s all theoretical in nature right now, of course, and could change on a daily basis as with everything else dependent on how things play out from an all-important health standpoint.
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Both North Dakota and Manchester are regular hosts in the NCAA hockey tournament, so they are at least accustomed to host larger multiple-game tournaments. That's part of what makes them ideal settings along with being lower-populated areas away from the coronavirus hot spots in the country.
There are plenty of hurdles to jump over, obviously.
All players, officials and coaches would need to be tested prior to the games being played to make certain the virus couldn’t spread and would need to essentially be quarantined for months while the playoffs roll out in these neutral sites. There is motivation to get this done, however, for multiple reasons.
The NHL obviously wants a playoff conclusion to the current season that could be ideally played out over the summer, and then plans could be made for something close to a full 2020-21 NHL regular season perhaps beginning in November.
Gary Bettman and the rest of North America’s sports commissioners and organizers sat in on a conference call with President Donald Trump over the weekend where the message seemed to be that the White House would like sports back sooner rather than later as the country aspires to get back to normalcy.
“[The sports leagues] want to get back," said Trump during a press briefing later on Saturday. "They've got to get back. They can't do this. Their sports weren't designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn't designed for it. We have to get back. We want to get back soon."
All that being said, the return of any sports is not going to happen unless there is massive improvement over the next month as social distancing and self-quarantining are utilized nationally to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported last weekend that the NBA is also considering its usual summer home of Las Vegas as a centralized setting for their potential playoffs this summer as well.
The good news is that there are still very vibrant, creative plans for playoff hockey this summer, so the hope is still very much alive that we’ll see NHL players doing their thing a few months from now.