Hurry up and wait. That might soon become the slogan of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Anyone hoping for a clearer picture to emerge following Friday’s virtual meeting of all 31 general managers was in for disappointment.
No decisions were made on when the new campaign will start, what it might look like or whether fans could be part of the equation. The holding pattern, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and not helped by recent spikes in positive cases, continues.
“There weren’t many answers to anything. Largely just updates and the notion that all options are still on the table,” a source told the Free Press of the two-hour online gathering.
Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was not available to comment.
Earlier this week, the league announced it was postponing the Winter Classic, set for New Year’s Day at Target Field in Minneapolis, along with the All-Star skills competition and game that was set to be held in late January in Sunrise, Fla.
However, the NHL said it was still committed to a potential Jan. 1 start to the new season.
While that may be the goal, time is running out to make it happen. The NHL Players’ Association is forming a return-to-play committee similar to the one that bargained with the league following the pause in mid-March.
Jets centre Mark Scheifele was part of that group, which agreed upon the 24-team Stanley Cup tournament, held in bubbles in hub cities Toronto and Edmonton, along with other key dates and formats and an extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
The league and its players could begin meeting next week.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated he’d like teams to play a full 82-game season, but also indicated they don’t want to play into the fall. One big reason is the Summer Olympics, which are slated begin in late July and would push hockey to the broadcast backburner.
There’s also the matter of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which NHL players are set to participate in, and the need to get the hockey calendar back to normal.
Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley spoke publicly earlier this week, indicating a modified season of 48 to 56 games following by playoffs is more likely, starting in February and ending by July. He also suggested teams could be realigned to get around travel challenges and border restrictions, with an all-Canadian division as one possibility.
Bettman has said the league could start games in empty buildings, then move to small gatherings of fans as local health and government officials allow. That’s similar to what the NFL is doing, along with the MLB for the World Series.
Ticket sales account for 50 per cent of NHL revenues, so it would be in their financial best interests to wait as long as possible to see if they can get a green light, at least in some markets.
Another bubble scenario, with players isolated from families for extended periods, is unlikely.
NHL GMs also discussed the state of the American Hockey League, which is also on indefinite pause. They were targeting an early December start, but that is expected to be pushed back indefinitely. AHL teams rely even more heavily on fans for revenue, but there is also a need for them to serve as the top developmental league for NHL clubs.
Jets/Manitoba Moose chairman Mark Chipman is one of the members of a return-to-play taskforce struck by the AHL.
Finally, there was also preliminary talk Friday of revamping the draft lottery, which was the subject of controversy this year after lowly Detroit, by far the worst team in the league, fell to the No. 4 selection. Ottawa, Los Angeles and a placeholder team that lost in the qualifying round (New York Rangers) all passed them for the third-, second- and first-overall selections.
There is a push to better the odds for the worst teams, while still allowing for the so-called luck of the draw that is meant to deter a club from deliberately tanking its season.
No decisions have been made in that regard.
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