While the NHL remains in a holding pattern regarding the 2019-20 season, the AHL officially canceled its season Monday morning, deeming it “not feasible” in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
While it’s understandable that people want to conflate what the NHL will do with what the AHL has done, the fact of the matter is the leagues operate in different stratospheres.
Not only does the NHL have more resources at its disposal than the AHL, television ratings for games this summer, even without fans in the arenas, would more than likely be through the roof. For a league working hard to increase its media footprint, that alone is motivation to resume play.
It’s been 60 days since the NHL suspended the 2019-20 season indefinitely; since then a seemingly continuous stream of new information has rolled in as the decision-makers turn every stone.
There’s still no timetable regarding a possible return to play.
Here’s what we know so far:
What options are on the table?
There has been a lot of conjecture on this front, with different ideas popping up left and right over the past couple of months.
It started with a pitch to play the rest of the games in Grand Forks, N.D., a pipe dream that Commissioner Gary Bettman put the kibosh on last month. That turned attention to the possibility of a handful of “hub cities” playing host for the rest of the regular-season schedule.
Naturally, Minnesota would make sense as an option based on its low infection rate, high testing capacity and hotel space near St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, among other things. The NHL has yet to confirm the “hub cities” in consideration.
Perhaps the biggest concerns for players when considering this option is being away from their families for an extended period of time.
“Guys with kids at home aren’t interested in shacking up somewhere for four months and being away from them,” said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk, the team’s union representative.
“I know myself personally, I’m not interested in packing up and going away for that length of time away from my family. I can’t imagine that anybody else would. And I think it sounds like the NHL is sensitive to that and understands that.”
Would there be fans in seats?
Unlikely. While the NHL relies heavily on its gates to bring in revenue, the ultimate goal is to finish the 2019-20 season in some way, shape, or form — and do so without dramatically impacting the 2020-21 season.
Logically, that means the expected restart window for this season would fall somewhere in either July and August, and if mass gathering aren’t allowed by then — which they more than likely won’t be — the NHL would likely have to move forward without fans in attendance.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz has set “predictability” as a standard for re-opening segments of business and community gathering. Events such as a sporting event, and the State Fair, are at the wrong end of the spectrum.
“I don’t see the sports stadiums being filled immediately, and I think it’s going to be hard before a vaccine or effective therapeutic,” the governor said on April 12.
Where would the season pick up?
It appears the NHL would jump straight to the playoffs if the 2019-20 season resumes. Which could be disastrous for the Wild as they’re currently a single point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.
However, there are preliminary reports that the NHL would expand its playoff format. If that proves to be the case, the Wild would make the playoffs in pretty much any scenario.
What's up with the NHL draft?
There is a growing belief, according to ESPN, that the NHL will host a virtual draft in early June before the 2019-20 season resumes.
While there are a lot of moving parts, and the NHL has yet to make a decision on the matter, the idea is rooted in the fact that waiting, and in turn, holding the draft during a condensed offseason would be hard on teams logistically.
Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding this proposal is the fact that teams traditionally use the draft meetings for trade talks. Because this year’s trade deadline was in February, many potential deals would be prohibited as next season draws near.
In addition, if the draft is held before the 2019-20 season is completed, teams eager to make roster changes and compete for this year’s Stanley Cup will be in a tough spot while planning for 2020-21.
Are players able to skate yet?
No, with the exception of a handful of international players, like Wild star Kevin Fiala, living in Sweden where rinks are open. The majority of players are awaiting guidance from the league.
A couple of weeks ago, the NHL and the NHLPA released a memo noting how they plan to slowly shift from Phase 1, which involved self-quarantine for players and hockey staff, to Phase 2, which involves players returning to team training facilities for small group activities.
As of right now, no team training facilities are open, and the NHL is continuing to monitor the situation as a whole.
“We will make a league-wide decision on the opening of team training facilities, and it will be at least somewhat dependent on where each market is across the league in terms of its ability to accommodate small group training,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN. “We aren’t looking to create competitive inequities between various markets.”