NHL Scrapping Neutral Site Option for Contests

We’ve heard about a variety of options for restarting professional sports seasons this season. There have been various different ones for baseball, mainly centered around neutral sites. The NBA is looking at similar scenarios as they look to get back on the floor in an effort to crown a champion this season. We continue to wait for some sort of concrete news about anything that will get us an idea of when to expect sports to be back on the airwaves and the playing surfaces. With that said, we did get one bit of news this week that gives us a look at the thought process of at least one of the leagues.

The NHL announced Wednesday that they are no longer considering the neutral site option and instead will focus on playing their games at league arenas. While the concept of playing at neutral sites in places like North Dakota and New Hampshire were bandied about, the league stated that it never got past the concept phase. Issues with facilities for league and team personnel, possible problems for having space for multiple broadcast teams and their equipment and the accommodations for their players pretty much doomed that situation. In addition, it was clear that the concept wasn’t overly considered as a viable option as NHLPA Director Donald Fehr said that league officials hadn’t had any conversations with the players association about any specific venues.

What does this mean for the NHL season at this point? Well, instead of worrying about seeing games in the postseason from places like Manchester, New Hampshire or Grand Forks, North Dakota, we may well see games in actual NHL venues. The league is contemplating having teams play in specific arenas for each division. At this point, early reports say the Metropolitan Division could play at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, while the Central Division could use the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis as their home base. The Pacific Division could see the Rogers Arena in Edmonton as their central hub while the Atlantic Division would have to find a viable option for a group of teams that cover the majority of the Eastern seaboard.

The current plan, as things seem to be mapped out at the moment, is that the league still intends to finish their regular season. NHL players are still quarantined through at least April 30 and that could continue into the first part of May. That means that the league would be playing hockey in June at the earliest, and into July or August depending on how the playoffs are devised. Florida Panthers CEO and president Matthew Caldwell had the following to say during a Re-Open Florida Task Force Conference call regarding the NHL:

"So that's going to take us into the June timeframe. At least with the NHL, we're trying to target some time in July. When we feel that players are safe, and we have enough testing and we have enough ways to get back on the ice for us, it's probably going to be contained at playing at four or five neutral sites. So that's all being discussed right now. My guess is that we would start with limited fans or empty arenas. So just with the teams and the associated staffs."

The league hopes to open sooner than that if possible. With the shift in thought process to stick to actual NHL arenas as opposed to going to a neutral site, one has to think that the move was made to help cut down on logistical issues. While having only one or even two venues per division, it does allow for cutting down on travel and the venues are used to the logistics of broadcast teams, not to mention all the infrastructure necessary to keep the league afloat as far as things usually go. It’s a bold move by the league but one that makes sense. In the Gary Bettman era, that’s something that is rare enough. The sooner that the league gets back to playing games, the better it will be for everyone involved.

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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.