The NHL has been having significant issues with COVID all season, and right before the holiday, the league shut down and canceled their trips to the Olympics. That three weeks from the Olympics was supposed to be enough to cover for the COVID shutdown, but just a few weeks removed from the holiday break, it might just not be enough. Then, Canada started imposing capacity limits, and the NHL began to move and reschedule games again to accommodate a “no fans in the stand” situation. So what might happen now?
According to a source familiar with the situation, one possibility is the NHL extending the season a couple of weeks to allow for scheduling flexibility. This type of decision would be a nightmare scenario for the league. In addition to finding empty buildings to play in, they’d also need to facilitate game day staff, refunding or exchanging tickets and ice conditions in the more mild climates. This type of logistics is incredibly complex and puts at risk other deadlines that impact the off-season. That said, if Canada doesn’t start allowing people in the building soon, it might be their only option.
Why The Pressure?
The biggest hurdle facing the NHL is that games played in Canada cannot have fans, and the NHL cannot afford to continue playing in empty builds. It’s too cost-prohibitive, and as I covered about a week ago, insurance companies are not covering their losses. This massive loss isn’t something the NHL can sustain, but they also have an enormous challenge in scheduling. Most NHL arenas are also used for other events. For example, most of them also serve as concert venues or NBA stadiums. Both of those usually occur while teams are on the road and block off many of the available days for rescheduling.
Beyond the pure scheduling chaos and financial implications, the NHL cannot squeeze more games together because many teams are already playing on back-to-back nights. The NHLPA would start to have serious issues with the league, as they should, if games are starting to become three in four nights or the travel schedule becomes a challenge to players’ health. At the end of the day, the product on the ice is highly dependant on the talent. No taxi squad or modified cap adjustments will solve a team with no skill on the ice. The ultimate pressure is on the NHL to find a safe but fan-filled way of moving forward.
Where Do They Go From Here?
According to our source, the league has not wanted to have these conversations much beyond hypotheticals. Still, as time continues and the situation is not turning, more and more buzz is connected to the idea. If the NHL has to extend the season, it’s still probably a better option than playing in empty buildings. If the season has to be extended, they can likely add a week or two right now and still land in a similar spot with off-season activities, but all of this has a massive global pandemic hanging over it. As this story develops, we’ll wait for signs of a decision either way. The best option for the NHL is that the rise in COVID cases starts to go down, and games can be played as initially planned with fans in the stands. Who knows if that will happen.