- It has been just over a month since the NHL suspended play due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
- The league is considering the feasibility of a return and several contingency plans.
- Sources indicate that the ‘neutral site’ plan is no longer under consideration.
As excited as I was to see NHL hockey in Regina, Saskatchewan or Casper, Wyoming it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. A number of sources have indicated that the league is no longer considering holding games at neutral sites. There were some practical reasons for that decision including the difficulty of finding enough NHL quality game and practice ice in relatively remote locations, difficulty in accommodating players, media and the other essential personnel and travel issues. There appears to have also been some pushback from players who didn’t want to be isolated in ‘flyover country’. Some players weren’t happy with giving up home ice advantage though one way or another that will likely be inevitable.
The most likely scenario now involves playing out the schedule at four or more ‘bubble cities’ with multiple games per day. No, Commissioner Gary Bettman isn’t literally trying to find ‘cities in bubbles’ but that’s the term he’s been throwing around. The idea is one centrally located city per division to complete the regular season along with daily ‘tripleheader’ games to help expedite the schedule. NHL Commissioner Bettman explained in more detail:
“The particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hotspot and has everything we need in terms of the arena and having practice facilities because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel there does need to be ice for practice.”
In an interview with SPORTSNET’S Ron MacLean, Bettman gave the reasons why smaller venues weren’t really tenable:
“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community because if we’re going to be centralized, we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide. Whether its multiple locker rooms, whether its the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities. Those are the things that are in place in NHL arenas and that’s what we’re going to ultimately need if we’re going to come back in a centralized basis and play multiple games a day.”
“There’s a lot that would have to be done and frankly our buildings are the best equipped in North America to deal with what our needs may be, if we go this route.”
Bettman has been in contact with Alberta premier Jason Kenney to discuss the idea as Edmonton is reportedly under consideration for ‘bubble city’ status. Other cities that have been mentioned are St. Paul, Minnesota and Raleigh-Durham, NC. Based on Kenny’s comments, the selections are nowhere near a ‘done deal’:
“I did receive a call from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who wanted to ask some questions about Alberta’s status and combating COVID. There was a very general conversation. We have not received a formal proposal of any kind.”
A secondary issue stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that the NHL must deal with–the status of the upcoming June draft. The prevailing wisdom is that it will likely be delayed. There’s also the issue of seeding–with the draft lottery historically based on the regular season results that won’t be possible to replicate until the league resumes play.