If you listen carefully and read between the lines, those who run the NHL have given every indication we will see hockey this summer. An NHL return is imminent, but when is a matter of contention. According to our colleagues at Boston Hockey Now, some owners are pushing the timeline for a return, and some teams are pushing back hard on the proposal to hold the 2020 NHL Draft in June.
The NHL brass has been making the national media rounds. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke with Sportsnet, and back-office power broker Colin Campbell spoke with Toronto radio hosts Tim & Sid. Various club officials have made stirring comments on local media outlets, and the Pittsburgh Hockey Now Family has been in contact with league sources, as well.
However, the league may be moving too fast for some teams, especially if they choose to hold the 2020 Draft in June.
Per a well-placed league source, PHN can confirm the currently favored plans include finishing the regular season but also holding the NHL Draft in June. That well-placed source told our colleague, Jimmy Murphy of Boston Hockey Now, teams are pushing back against the June Draft, especially.
“Forget the fact that so much of what can still happen in the draft will be determined by the outcome of not just the season but also the playoffs. …this is nuts,” the source said. “They [the league] think they can just dictate this but it’s not that easy.”
The source had more strong words for Murphy.
“(The NHL) is force-feeding the draft down our throats and insisting that if a season is still going happen, the draft sets it up in early June. (Sportsnet) laid out a plausible plan of how that could work, but if a vote was held today, the top-ranked draft prospects won’t find out what jersey they’ll get the chance to don until at least September.”
More strident owners are also pushing hard for an NHL return to play, sooner than later. The sources told Murphy there is an imbalance in the discussions. Some owners are pressing hard on the gas, and players are remaining cautious.
“The pressure’s on to save what money they all can, but one seems willing to risk more than the other,” the source said.
League is Pushing for a Return
The overriding theme of public conversations and private talk has shifted from “if” to the assumption hockey will return and how best to achieve the NHL return. Bettman confirmed to Sportsnet, the NHL has formulated a plan to use one host city per division. And Bettman killed the idea of non-NHL cities hosting the “pods.”
“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 it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards, and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities,” Bettman said. “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.”
Campbell confirmed the criteria by which the NHL is selecting those cities. He essentially laid out a points system.
“There’s a number of criteria. Is it a friendly hub? What state is friendly, what province is friendly? What are they dealing with (in terms of COVID-19 cases),” Campbell asked rhetorically. “Obviously, you look at the New York area, it’s not very friendly, and you look at Alberta, that seems fairly friendly.”
New York has been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in North America. Nearly one in three cases in the US has been in New York state. The coronavirus so ravaged New York City, hospitals sought additional medical personnel from around the country to volunteer.
Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan also made an interesting point about the currency. The Canadian dollar is 70 cents to the American George Washington, so it would be less expensive to house hundreds of players and feed them, in Canada. Shanahan included that in his pitch for Toronto to be a hub city.
“It’s a 70-cent dollar. There are a number of restaurants in that square there, a number of five-star hotels within shouting distance, so Toronto has a number of excellent pluses on their side to be one of the hub centers.”
And on Friday night, former player and cult hero John Scott, whom fans voted into the 2016 NHL All-Star Game as a show of power and humor, uncorked this whopper.
Just got word that the NHL camps will begin again June 1… European players are coming back soon #breaking
— John Scott (@johnscott_32) April 24, 2020
If he’s right, word should leak soon. PHN is certainly chasing that story with other players to confirm or deny they’ve heard the same. For now, it remains unconfirmed and a bit too optimistic.
For the NHL to begin camps on June 1, players must be quarantined and tested for at least two weeks. Players traveling from Europe and returning from their permanent residences need to be tested and quarantined for an additional two weeks. So, to begin on June 1, means quarantines begin on May 15.
An additional wrinkle, or problem with the June 1 start, is the Toronto ban on gatherings is in effect through the end of June.
To confirm public reporting, league sources have told PHN the NHL return will finish the regular season before playoffs begin, though a modified regular season may be necessary.