Possible Options to Continue the 2019-20 NHL Season

2019-20 NHL season

It was announced that the NHL extended the self-quarantine period from April 15th to April 30th. This means players, coaches, and all hockey-related staff must self-isolate and the league has shutdown all practices, facilities and even informal team workouts. The 2019-20 NHL season continues influx.

It’s just another sign that the NHL is not quite sure how to proceed even if they are permitted to get back to semi-normal… whatever that may be.

The Many Options to Continue Play of the 2019-20 NHL Season Exist

2019-20 NHL season

Photo courtesy of North Dakota Athletics

One such option is to play out the regular season (depending on when that may be) at a neutral site such as Ralph Engelstad arena in Grand Forks, N.D. Why there? Well, it’s a location which is isolated as far population is concerned. Grand Forks has a population of only 57,000 people. Other factors include that the arena is a world-class facility. They even have cherry wood seats with leather upholstery. Not that the seats would matter since the games will likely be unattended by fans due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Even the Great One, Wayne Gretzky has stated that the arena is, “One of the most beautiful buildings we have in North America.” The arena was opened in October of 2001 for a modest cost of $104 million. It has a seating capacity of 11,643 and just added a $6 million world-class scoreboard last year. It would be a good choice to hold NHL games even if unattended by any fans and just televised to hockey deprived fans.

And just in case multiple games may be needed to be played a second Olympic-sized sheet of ice sits adjacent to the main arena. In addition to the main arena, The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center (or simply The Betty) was completed in 2004 and is now the home of UND’s basketball and volleyball teams. While it is a smaller facility they are both located on the University of North Dakota campus.

Points to Consider if Play Resumes in a Neutral Site

  1. Do players have to quarantine and not be able to see their families during the pandemic?
  2. What about all the support staff the players come in contact with? Cameramen, Zamboni drivers, trainers, cooks, hotel staff? Are they quarantined so they don’t catch the virus?
  3. Do we still have the requirement for an ambulance and a doctor at the arena? Are we taking those front line healthcare staff away from fighting the pandemic to be serving the NHL?
  4. If a player gets injured, are we taking up a hospital bed needed for a COVID19 patient? Or a surgical room if a player is seriously needing care? Are we taking away doctors and nurses to handle a separated shoulder or a torn ACL?
  5. Is there the hotel capacity in Grand Forks to accommodate a 16/24-team playoff? Are we using the college dorms to house the players and all involved in bringing a game to television? If so, are we endangering the students who use those dorms when college resumes?
  6. Can the ice withstand 3-4 games a day in May and June? Or, will the second arena be needed?

Other Considerations to Ponder

All good points and lots to consider if this is the decision the NHL concludes. Other considerations are players over in Europe will need to travel to North America and need to be quarantined for 14 days. That along with a mini-training camp will be necessary to prevent player’s injuries. This all takes time, and time is not one of the NHL’s assets in deciding how to proceed. TSN’s Insider Trading debated the many challenges the league faces if they do decide to return to play.

Will the NHL be unable to gather any gate revenue until a vaccine is available allowing mass gatherings again? If that is the case not only will the league lose revenue for the remaining games this 2019-20 NHL season, plus the playoffs… but it puts in doubt what next season may look like financially.

From a player’s perspective, you have Drew Doughty making his call on whether he thinks the season is over or not.

At this point, there does seem to be more questions than answers as far as if and/or when the NHL may resume playing hockey games. The utmost concern must be for the player’s safety. Owners may have a different view as they struggle to determine how they will survive financially.

One thing is certain. Games played without fans just seem obscure and frantic. If it’s all about TV revenue then why play the games? Fans want to see their favourite sport, but is it worth the possibility of getting infected by this deadly killer virus?

We all await the decision and in the meantime observe the social distancing rules and wear a face mask and wonder… what the heck is the world coming to? Will we see ‘normal’ anytime soon? Are there more important things than watching a sport while others are dying or have lost their jobs?

It’s time to put it all into perspective. This COVID-19 is some serious stuff.

Stay safe, follow the health experts’ advice and dream of hockey… because for now, it’s all we’ve got.

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