There always seem to be the people out there pleading for the NHL to become more marketable, more fun, more appealing.
If there's a silver lining to the suspension and uncertainty of the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus outbreak, it could be the doors opening for some experimentation by the league.
Wednesday morning saw the calendar flip to April. The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were originally scheduled to start April 8. Nobody knows when or if they'll begin. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL has been out of commission since March 12 and on Tuesday extended its isolation period to April 15.
Every NHL team has at least 11 games left on its regular-season schedule. The Flyers, who are a point behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, have 13 games left.
With each passing day, the hopes of finishing the 2019-20 season in full weaken.
"That’s been the hardest part, for not only us but I feel like everyone in the world — there’s all this uncertainty around everything," James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' NHLPA representative, said Tuesday night in a conference call. "It’d be nice to be like, ‘You know what, you sit at home for a month and then everything will go back to normal.’ I think that would obviously be a lot easier for everyone to handle than these daily to weekly updates on stuff and you’re kind of still unsure about what’s going to go on. A lot of people feel like, I’m sure, just running in place right now trying to stay busy and keep yourself in shape.”
Will the NHL find a way to drastically change its plan throughout the summer to play 2019-20 in its entirety? Should the league ax the remainder of the regular season and jump right into the playoffs? Could the postseason format change? Is the season going to resume at all?
A veteran of 11 seasons, van Riemsdyk knows all options will be on the table.
"I’d like to think we’ll find a way, but ultimately we want to guarantee the safety of everyone involved whether that’s players, staff, fans, families — we don’t want to do anything at the expense of any of that," van Riemsdyk said. "This is a way bigger issue than sports.”
He sees the NHL's predicament as a possible tryout opportunity for the league.
“Ultimately it’s going to come down to timing and how we can fit everything in," van Riemsdyk said. "In a perfect world, you’d like to finish the regular season and play it out as it may and go from there. But if some of those timeframes become a little bit too shortened where we can’t fit that in, it kind of creates a unique opportunity, in my opinion, to maybe try something a little bit unique with the playoff structure.
"I know that’s been talked about in the last couple of years especially is try to maybe add some more teams to it. If we’re in a situation like we are this year, it’s basically a free chance to try something a little bit outside the box maybe and see what might work.
"We’ll cross those bridges when we get there as far as time-wise and when we’re able to start things up and how that might look.”
Sixteen of the NHL's 31 teams qualify for the postseason. Each round features a best-of-seven series. The NHL playoffs have always been must-see entertainment. They could be a whole lot more fun, for all viewers, with a look that will be different to everybody. After all, 2019-20 has now become much different than other seasons in the past.
“If it gets to the point where we don’t have enough time to play out the regular season, which I’m sure everyone obviously would like to do," van Riemsdyk said, "then we can be more creative in the sense of trying something a little bit outside the box with the playoff structure potentially.”
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