Is the NHL Starting to Draw Closer to a Return?

The sports world continues to look to an undetermined date in the future to return to some sense of normal. In the NBA and NHL, that would lead to the potential conclusion of their regular season slates leading into the playoffs. For Major League Baseball, it would be getting the season started. The NFL continues their offseason as they started the draft Thursday night, though it was done virtually. There continue to be rumblings about potential returns by other leagues and it sounds as if the NHL may be inching closer to their return.

According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, at least one team has told its players to circle May 15 on their calendars. That wouldn’t be for part of the obviously necessary training camp that teams would need to get back up to speed after being out of action for what would be just over two months at that stage, but for informal workouts just to get their legs back before hitting the ice with more intensity. That would seem to dovetail with the previous statements where the league expects to get going again, likely in July, though it could happen sooner. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement that “We have not specified or articulated any ‘target dates’ to our Clubs at this point.”

In addition, various reports say that the league is evaluating venues for where games could be played once the season restarts. According to Pierre LeBrun from The Athletic, the league is looking at a dozen venues around the league to try and find the best fits to be a central location for multiple teams. Having enough arenas for six to eight teams to have training camp in a nearby radius would be important as well. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that the plan would be to potentially play as many as three games a day in each arena, which was a major reason why the concept of playing in neutral sites was scrapped.

Bettman went on to state that there were no venues set in stone and that it would depend on several different factors as to where games would be held.

"Maybe it'll be two cities. It's not something that we can predict right at this moment. But this is part of the contingencies. It doesn't necessarily have to be by division, although the centralization may be by division. But the particular location could be anywhere that isn't a hot spot and has what we need both in terms of the arena and having practice facilities, because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you're playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel, there does need to be ice for practice."

It will be interesting to see if there will be more than one team that has issued the directive that Brooks mentioned in his column. That would mean that players that are currently in Europe may have to leave their home country and fly into the United States by the end of next week, should a two-week quarantine be instituted to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. It’s going to take some time to get everyone back up to speed and ready to hit the ice. At least, we’re hearing some thought processes that will get us back to seeing action sooner rather than later, even if Bruins forward Brad Marchand issued a warning about how it could be a struggle coming out of the gate in the early going should the league resume:

“We’re all going to be bad. It’s going to take a while to get it back, so that’s going to be the biggest concern with this whole thing. If you take guys that have been off and had very limited opportunities to work out and train and haven’t skated in months, you can’t just throw them back into games or everybody is going to get hurt. There’s going to be some kind of ramp-up period, but it’s going to be really, really ugly for a couple of games. It’d be nice to get a couple of games before the playoffs, otherwise, it’s going to be a free-for-all.”

At this stage of things, it’s safe to say that fans would be happy watching any kind of professional sports with athletes. It could be played at the level of the strike games in the 1987 NFL season and fans would be foaming at the mouth. It’s unlikely that a couple of choppy games would affect the fan interest in the league. Let’s just get back to seeing actual games and highlights instead of talking heads.

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Chris King

Chris King has been immersed in the world of professional and collegiate sports for more than three decades. Whether it's playing pickup games or being involved in organized sports to being a fan, he's checked all the boxes. From the NFL to arena football, the NHL to the KHL, the NBA to the WNBA to college hoops, and even MLB to the KBO. If it's out there, he's covered it and bet on it as well, as Chris has been an expert bettor in his career. Before joining Winners and Whiners back in 2015, his work appeared around the internet and in print. He's written books for Ruckus Books about college basketball, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, golf, and the World Cup. If you're looking for the inside track on hitting a winner, do yourself a favor and read what Chris has to say.