Knock on wood, cross your fingers and say a little prayer the 2019-2020 NHL season will indeed resume activity in 45 days and games in 60 days. Well, 59 days at the time of publishing. The world is grinding to a halt except for a few takeout joints, gas stations, and essential personnel. Eventually, we will all get through this self-quarantine, and life will resume. In an ironic twist, after the pandemic, the Pittsburgh Penguins may be healthier than before.
So, how could or should the NHL restart their season?
First, we must factor the timeline. If the season is merely delayed by two months, that means the mid-June Stanley Cup presentation occurs in mid-August. The 2020-21 season would begin two weeks later. Yikes.
That’s just not going to happen, so monetary concessions will need to be made, as well as logistical alterations. If the playoffs begin in mid-May, then a slight delay next season could keep 2020-21 largely intact. Perhaps the bye week could be removed or the Holiday break removed to keep the trains on schedule.
Please understand the following is not from NHL sources or other high-ranking officials. This is our own take and projection on what makes sense.
The NHL cannot discard the regular season and jump immediately to the playoffs. There are too many issues with the standings, especially in the Western Conference. The NHL will need a one-week regular season sprint. Rework the schedule. Get every team to 72 games played. For most teams, getting to 72 games played means two or three more games. That can be accomplished in one week.
Finish divisional series, preferably—certainly no cross-country treks. Road trips must be quick flights.
With every team at 72 games, the playoffs seedings would be clear. There would be some grousing, but under the circumstances, that would be the fairest. I’ve heard some fans suggest a play-in tournament, and as much as we love that idea, it would advantage the play-in teams as the safe teams would be far too rusty after a two-month layoff.
Did we mention we really love the idea of a play-in tournament for the wild card spots, but just can’t figure out how to make it work (at least in a logical, professional or plausible way).
Under the best-case scenario of this pandemic, play would begin on May 15, which puts the start of the playoffs on or around May 25. Eight weeks is still too much time to effectively give the players an offseason after the Stanley Cup is awarded.
So, the divisional rounds necessarily would be reduced to five games. That should shave two weeks off the playoffs. If the season can end in late July, then an October training camp seems more plausible. It wouldn’t be ideal, but the World Cup of Hockey dragged the Pittsburgh Penguins players off the beach a full three weeks early, too.
With an October camp, and late October or November start to the regular season, the NHL would need to find three or four weeks. Remove some of the holiday break, remove the bye week, and add one week onto the end of next season. Tada. There’s three weeks saved.
This is pending life being able to resume under the best-case scenarios. Sadly, I think we’re all coming to the realization that this thing isn’t going away quietly, nor will it go quickly. South Korea had another outbreak on Monday, despite declining overall cases.
Also, yesterday the Penguins donated over one ton of food from PPG Paints Arena to 412 Food Rescue. Good on them. The Pittsburgh Penguins community efforts are second to none.