It will be just a little while longer than we hoped. The initial excitement of the agreement between the NHL and NHLPA on Friday over the NHL return is giving way to reality. The eagerness and relief are becoming anxious. Kind of like writing your letter to Santa but realizing it’s only November. Meanwhile, the NHL and Gary Bettman are working the schedule like a shrewd poker player.
On Thursday, multiple reports from Sportsnet and TSN indicated the league informed the NHLPA the move to Phase 3 of the NHL return would not happen until at least July 10. On Tuesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stipulated Phase 3 would begin no earlier than July 1.
Many players quickly made quick plans to return to their team city, but the additional delay disappointed a few players who communicated with the PHN family.
To be clear, no one was angry or pushing to move ahead before a proper time; the players feel the same disappointments like everyone else who loves what they do.
“I don’t know if there’s a special day, but its something I want to be a part of,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who is the Penguins NHLPA rep, said during a video chat on Thursday. “…I think the right play is to come back and to practice at our facility with our staff and our players .”
The NHL Return to Play Phase 2 is tentatively scheduled to begin in early June, so players will get to work out with a few of their teammates, but those workouts will last at least a week longer than many anticipated. Those players didn’t race back to skate in groups of six or less for five weeks.
Gary Bettman is not a fool. He may occasionally seem indifferent to public desires or demands, but he is not an opponent against whom one wants to play high stakes poker.
Bettman is usually a step ahead.
And such is the case with the preemptive Phase 3 delay.
How could the NHL already delay the earliest possible date? The answer is as simple as long. I’ve been able to briefly touch on the topic on a pair of radio appearances this week, one with the legend Paul Zeise on 93-7 the Fan and the other with Dave Weekley on the West Virginia Metro network.
First, it could be logistics. But the rippling consequences are positive.
The CDC and Dr. Fauci, the country’s prominent advisor to President Trump, are fearful of a second wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the fall. The second wave will coincide with the flu season, which is now expected to be worse because we’ve isolated from each other, thus failing to swap antibodies.
What a double whammy, eh? But I digress.
Should the NHL begin Phase 3 in early July, and Phase 4 (games) in mid-July, they could wrap by mid-September. Such timing would put the start of the 2020-21 season in November, which will be the height of any potential virus waves. That means an NHL regular season without fans in the stands and a lot less money in the cash register.
No other major North American sports league relies on the gate like the NHL.
By delaying the start of Phase 3 and Phase 4 now, the NHL can push games back until late July, but likely early August, which puts the beginning of the 2020-21 NHL season into January.
If we’re going to have a COVID-19 vaccine, it seems like we should know the score by December, yes?
If you’d like my inputs and insights on the current state of COVID-19, the quarantine, and the future, you’ll have to ask. Otherwise, you’re adults capable of finding credible information and making good decisions without my shaming or direction.
The slight foot-dragging by Bettman and the NHL will both setup the current NHL season for as much success as possible, but also the following season. A few more days idling on the starting line could mean fans in the stands and a much healthier bottom line.
A small but shrewd move.