by Watson Scott Swail
On Friday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that the players overwhelmingly approved the playoff format if the league re-opens this summer in order to complete the 2019-20 season. The wording was cautious: there is still much to be resolved regarding safety, testing, visas, and locations.
My belief is that they have most of this already considered and read to go. The NHL and NHLPA management haven’t been idle for the past 11 weeks. I’m sure everything has been discussed and resolution has been made on most issues. I find it hard to believe there are that many I’s to dot and t’s to cross to make the season happen. It undoubtedly will focus on 4-6 locations in the US and Canada. If they can’t get the border work done (given that the 29th parallel is legally closed both ways), then all games will end up occuring in the US. We have heard that leading sites include Edmonton, Raleigh, Tampa, and Dallas, although there are many others that have been discussed and could work well. And no: Winnipeg won’t be one of them, mostly due to hotel infrastructure (although no one has said that, I’m sure trying to take care of 200+ players plus staff and coaching is challenging, albeit not impossible even in Winnipeg). But other cities would be better. Interesting to see the NBA offer their season completely in ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Disney World. All 32 teams would (will?) be camped in Disney and have easy access to dozens of courts. An exceptional way to be able to do it.
One of the minor challenges reported by players is that they would have to quarantine as a league and be away from family for ane extended period of up to 2.5 months. This is a bigger issue for players with families, but still, if you go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs (this format would require 19 wins for lower-end teams rather than the typical 16 wins to secure the Cup), you could be gone for quite a piece of time. Some players are more opposed than others. My understanding is that the players are overwhelmingly supportive of playing. Even in Friday’s NHLPA vote, only two teams turned down the playoff format, and even then noted that while they voted against, they are in support of starting up against. They (Canes and Lightning) only voted against the format.
Beyond the yelping of being away from family, which isn’t fun for anyone, it just takes a simple nod to the members of our military here on Memorial Day 2020, who regularly leave for 6-month deployments, which sometimes are extended for 9, 12 months if necessary. During Desert Storm, some crews were gone for 18 months.
Thus, it doesn’t seem like such a hardship for players whose lowest paid players earn $700,000, with a league average of around $4 million, to spend a little time questing for the Holy Grail of professional sports. If our military can do it for $21,000/year (private) for much longer periods of time, as do government contractors, then so can the highly-remunerated NHL hockey players.
The only argument against, of course, is safety. And not just of the players. But the large continent of staff with the teams, the NHL, and the arena, hotel, and restaurant staff across North America. Once that has been satisfied, this thing is ready to go.
My expectation is that the first series will begin right around Canada Day or July 4th. If you loved “The Match” with Tiger and the gang yesterday, then you’ll love having our Stanley Cup Playoffs back. Not a perfect season, but a way to end it without too many asterisks.