COVID-19 is once again raging across the United States. Over 1 million cases have been reported since the start of November. Despite that, the NFL and CFB are playing. The NBA wants to and soon. What’s happening with the NHL return?
According to a report from ESPN, the NBPA has approved the December 22 return to play for the 2020-21 season. The expectation is that the season would include 72 games instead of the usual 82, with training camps to start December 1. The financial details remain to be ironed out including an amended CBA for the season, but it looks like a go.
The pressure is mounting on the NHL to do the same.
To this point, the NHL has been setting optimistic dates for a return and has moved them back. January 1 was the most recent date set but in recent discussions February 1 has been floated more and more often. Even Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley believes February 1 is a more likely target date. His reasons include needing fans in the building and giving more time to potential COVID-19 mitigation including any potential vaccines.
That said, the NHL reiterated (perhaps because of the NBA timeline) it wishes to resume January 1.
Today, Commissioner Gary Bettman came out with some potential NHL return to play plans including short-term hubs, a temporary realignment and a shorter schedule.
Bettman’s remarks came at the Paley International Summit during a virtual panel discussion. He made it clear there would be no full-season bubble requirement, but offered some modified versions. Bettman spoke of potential hubs, or a hybrid system, with teams gathering for 10-12 days to play games with no travel, then returning home to families for a week. He also mentioned the league is looking at playing with and without fans in attendance, something Golden Knights owner Bill Foley is against. He said it would be difficult for teams “including us” to make it financially without fans. It’s unclear how the NHL would convince owners to operate their franchises if they’re hemorrhaging money.
Another major issue is the Canadian border with the US is closed until at least January 1, which has led to rampant speculation about an all-Canadian division to at least start the season. This would also require the realignment of the remaining teams into different divisions. It’s unclear if this would last until the border opens for for the duration of a shortened season.
But now another travel issue is cropping up as COVID-19 rages across the US once again: certain states are not allowing citizens of other states to travel in, while others are requiring quarantines of up to two weeks. This lends credence to Bettman’s hub city approach in places where travel is either unrestricted or simply requires a negative test before entering. Either way, it’s an extra hoop to jump through in what already resembles a circus balancing act.
Tokyo Olympics Impact
The NHL really does have an end date for this season: the Tokyo Olympics. American broadcast rightsholder NBC Sports also hold the rights to the Tokyo games and would not pre-empt its coverage for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So the Cup has to be handed out prior to mid-July or risk being awarded in a vacuum.
Even the NBA acknowledged it needed to wrap up before opening ceremonies.
Truth be told, I’m sure everyone from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to Joe and Jane Golden Knights Fan would love to get the season started ASAP. But it has to be done with safety as the top priority. After that, profitability needs to be there too. That’s where it gets sticky for owners.
Whether the league plays 82 or 48 games this season, owners do not have a provision to pro-rate player salaries for this year. That means exactly what you think it does. Regardless of games played, each player would get his full salary for the season. So owners are rightly concerned about having fans in the building to help cover expenses, and why a few owners might have even quietly suggested not playing this year if there’s no fans.
The NBA expects that a restart on Dec. 22 that includes Christmas Day games in its 72-game schedule would be worth $500M to $1B in short and long-term revenues for the league and players. The league also expects to wrap its schedule up prior to the mid-July start of the Tokyo games.
The Real Question
The real question is one of economics. If you play, you pay full boat players salaries. You bear the cost of travel, all staff, and keeping the lights on. Does the broadcast revenue and ancillary sales (merch, etc.) come close to making you whole? Or at least outstrip the losses sustained from missing a year?
The hardest impact to measure would be missing the season and the effect on future income. Except the NHL has a real-world example in the 2004-05 season, lost to a cancellation amid labor negotiations. I realize a lot has changed in 15 years, but the sting is still felt by many on all sides. The players balked at accepting a deal they could have had a year earlier resulting in the current salary cap. Ownership hated missing a year’s worth of gate and other revenue, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told them to stand together and they did. But millions of dollars was lost in revenue and some fans checked out in disgust.
As I mentioned earlier, VGK owner Bill Foley has voiced – publicly – his financial concerns with no fans in the stands. If Foley, whose franchise is doing well at the gate, in merch and on the ice is concerned, can you imagine the pucker factor in cities where the playoffs and full houses are but wishful thinking? Foley is not alone on this. Not by a long shot.
Is There An Answer?
This is where transparency for an NHL return is important. How do you plan to go about making sure teams don’t fold or go up for sale because of financial duress caused by the pandemic? While those reasons are understandable, they are also something the league needs to be proactive about avoiding. What are the plans? How can you reassure fans of **insert team here** that it’s going to be ok? Information abhors a vacuum. The less said, the more rumors will swirl. The answer is for the NHL to step up and at least unveil some of its planning. I’m not asking for specific, team-by-team financial details. I do want a clear vision of leadership as to where the league is headed.
Will the NHL return on January 1? It’s not out of the question, but for that to happen a lot of things need to be resolved – and explained – before then.
Golden Knights Training Camp Day 2 In The Books
Yesterday was a very exciting day as the Vegas Golden Knights took to the ice for the first time in training camp. Day Two wasn’t nearly as exciting, but necessary as things moved forward. Here are a few key takeaways from today’s action.
As of now, Nick Holden remains on what I’ll pencil in as the 7/8 pair with Dylan Coghlan. As I said yesterday don’t read too far into things because the Golden Knights are going to need eight solid D to make this season work. For the time being, it looks like Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague are going to get a chance to show what they can do as a unit. Alex Pietrangelo remained with Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore with Alec Martinez.
Today was more of a jumble of lines as some guys get a look playing up. Among them was Tomas Jurco who took the place of Max Pacioretty with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Jurco is a guy I love for the VGK because this season because he’s a vet who can slide into the lineup on a moment’s notice and play a variety of roles. Definitely a taxi squad guy who makes you feel better about your depth.
Also, Stephenson is still centering this line. I know many of you wonder if Cody Glass is going to get his shot at the 2C but not yet. Stephenson did look good today, generating a scoring chance off a stretch pass up the middle and showing some speed. He’s skating with confidence early in camp, and I would not be surprised to see him exactly where he is now come opening night.
Finally, it was nice to see Jonathan Marchessault score for the second straight day. If he warms those goal-scoring hands up early, it could be a tremendous campaign for him.
Keep your browser pointed here for more camp coverage!
Tom’s Daily: Handicapping the West Division; Stepan to Sens
Tom’s Daily: Looking at the West Division; Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brandon Kruseand his unusual senior season; Stepan sent to the Sens; VGK fans have a new streaming option this season.
The West Division should be a fun, competitive division this year. At least in the top half. Here’s NHL.com’s look at how things might shake out. (NHL.com)
Brandon Kruse is working his way through an unusual senior season at Bowling Green. The Golden Knights prospect is projeting better than a point-per-game so far on the ice. (NHL.com)
Derek Stepan was shipped to the Ottawa Senators from the Arizona Coyotes, giving the Sens more center depth and eating up a chunk of that free cap space they had. (Sportsnet)
Ilya Kovalchuk won’t be playing in the NHL this year. Or next year. (NHL.com)
Michael Del Zotto signs a pro tryout contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Expect a lot of fringe NHL guys who don’t have deals to be competing for jobs this year. (Sportsnet)
Five questions facing the Florida Panthers heading into training camp. This team could be really good. It could also not. (FloridaHockeyNow)
According to Larry Brooks from the New York Post, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the only major league sports team to receive a paycheck protection loan totaling $4.82M. (New York Post)
Longtime NHL player and executive Dave Poulin is writing for the Toronto Star. Here’s his debut piece. (Toronto Star)
Tom’s Daily: New VGK Schedule; Pacioretty, Lehner Busts?; NHL Breaking News
Tom’s Daily: Breaking NHL news! Plus the Vegas Golden Knights have a schedule and we break it down for you; Bolts find cap relief but it’s not good; more
Vegas Golden Knights
Just in case you missed it, the NHL schedule dropped yesterday and we broke it down for you here. (VHN)
Here’s the team/league release on the schedule as well. (NHL.com)
Breaking News: It looks like the NHL has permission to move forward in Canadian cities. That’s a major sigh of relief. (Sportsnet)
Whew! Gritty has been cleared to return to NHL games this season. (The Hill)
Nikita Kucherov is going to miss the regular season due to hip surgery. While the Lightning certainly don’t want to be without one of the best players in today’s game, it certainly helps their situation with his $9.5M cap hit moved to LTIR. (Tampa Bay Times)
Ryan Miller is back with the Anaheim Ducks on a one-year deal and I love it. I hope Miller, one of the nicest guys in the game, gets to his milestone of 400 wins. It won’t happen this season unless something goes crazy sideways, but he needs 13 more to do it. (ESPN)
The Arizona State University men’s hockey team decided to start the season with a monster 36-day road trip. My personal longest road trip was 18 days and that was a nightmare. I can’t imagine double that. As it turns out, the team wanted it this way. (ESPN)
Are you all fans of fantasy hockey content? I can post more of that type of stuff if you are, let me know in the comments. For now, I’m putting this in here because of Max Pacioretty’s featured status as a fantasy “bust” for this season. Oh, and add Robin Lehner too. Not sure I agree, but here you go. (CBS)