There are between nine and 12 teams competing to host what should be four National Hockey League playoff tournaments if the league is able to resume playoffs this summer.
“It’s like bidding for the Olympics,” said an NHL executive the team wants to host. “You know you are bidding against other cities, but you don’t know who they are all. “
In order for cities wishing to become one of the host arenas, to be used if the health authorities authorize the NHL to resume play this summer, a real “specification” is needed, like what the host committees publish when they apply to host a Pan Friendly Games or World Athletics Championships.
But what makes this application more complex is that potential teams must explain how they will keep 600 to 1,000 people in a COVID-19 quarantine bubble. Are the hotels close? How are you going to feed people? How far are the training rinks?
How much time would be spent on buses, as opposed to walking, where social distance can be maintained?
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people in the hockey world, then tell the listeners everything they’ve heard and what they think.
When chatting with people in the league, here are some thoughts on the application process.
• First of all, everyone agrees that the health authorities call the shots here. And this improved testing capacity is a major player.
The NHL is in full preparation because, frankly, what else are they supposed to do? If health officials do not allow hockey to play this summer, the league will withdraw. If the NHL gets the green light, however, the planning work they have done throughout the pandemic will allow the league to be ready from the start.
• Sources say it is closest that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr worked together. Much of what the NHL is trying to figure out is how to get their games back on TV, but how to do it without requiring players to be quarantined away from their families for weeks.
So far, it doesn’t seem like the NHL can have one without the other.
As Montreal Canadiens center Phillip Danault said this week, “Some players could be three to four months away from their family, which I think is way too much. And I’m not the only one who thinks like that, I’m sure. “
• The league continues to advance with scenarios that involve regular season games. Some scenarios envision teams playing the full 82 game schedule, but increasingly that number is 78 or 76 games.
“Why do we need teams like Ottawa and Detroit to come back to play games?” asked a director. Well, these teams have local TV offerings that must also be met. These regular season games will be the first to be sacrificed, but remember that this is all about revenue, and even non-qualifying teams have missed revenue to fear.
• Assuming no regular season games are played, the most popular playoff scenario is as follows: The top 6 teams in each division meet in one city. They would open with the best of three sets between the seeded No. 1 and 2 (to decide a division winner), while No. 3 meets 6 and 4 meets 5 for the right to continue playing.
In this scenario, the only current seventh place team that could feel left out is the New York Rangers. They are one point behind sixth place for the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, but the Rangers have played two more games. There is no team that could say that the No. 6 seed had the advantage of playing more games than they did and that they had been treated unfairly.
• The criteria for winning a bid are largely based on how the city has been affected by COVID-19, which excludes teams from New York or New Jersey. The Governor of California has also made it clear that he does not support the pursuit of the sport.
In Canada, Edmonton and Winnipeg are said to be way ahead of everyone, for a variety of reasons. Ottawa has had fewer COVID-19 cases than most major Canadian cities, but long bus trips to Kanata arena are considered a problem. In Edmonton, there are enough hotels within a two-block radius of Rogers Place, as well as an exercise rink attached to the complex.
The Columbus Arena district is also considered a model. The submissions plan to approach restaurants near the arenas that are currently closed to serve as “inside the bubble” restaurants for NHL staff.
• Who counts as “NHL staff?” It’s a great question.
A source said that the rink staff – Zamboni drivers, etc. – should live in hotels for the duration of the tournament. As for the media, would they be seated high up in the stands, entering and leaving the rink according to a defined route? Would they be able to hold press conferences after the match?
In general, the closer a person gets to players, the more restrictive their quarantine guidelines will be.
• What if a player has to go to the hospital?
There is no way around this. Any player who leaves “the bubble” to go to the hospital for an injury or otherwise – or returns home for the birth of a baby – should wait around 14 days before playing again.
• Until what time can they follow this plan? It seems to happen all the time later.
The NHL is ready to play this in October if need be, and here’s a reason: no one wants to start the 2020-21 season in a scenario where they can’t allow fans in the building. If they’re not playing with any fans, “let’s say these are the 2020 playoffs,” said one person.
Bill Daly’s long-standing calls not to trample on integrity next season seem to have gone unheeded. If they can lead the off season – free agency, etc. – in November, start playing on December 1 with fans in the seats and play until the end of July, it looks like the NHL is ready and willing.