March 12, 2020.
The date the National Hockey League announced the suspension of the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had no other choice, in light of the NBA suspending its season the night before.
May 26, 2020, a little over two months later, it is hockey that emerges as the pioneer for North American sports returning.
Tuesday’s announcement from the Commissioner is a win for the NHL.
“The health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount,” Bettman said. “While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so.”
Gary Bettman showed his savviness as a Commissioner on Tuesday. Securing network time in both Canada and the United States to deliver the announcement accelerates the conversation surrounding the sport’s return.
Major League Baseball and its player’s union are squabbling over the appropriate return agreement. The NBA and NBPA are debating options for resuming the season, but are cautious. Time is on the side of the NFL, with the season starting in September, but many hurdles remain.
Tuesday proved that amidst a pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are collaborative in navigating these challenging times. Both Bettman and NHLPA President Donald Fehr acknowledge the health and economic crisis the world is facing. The two sides are willing to work together to return to hockey safely.
But many logistical questions linger. Which two locations will be the “hub cities”? What will the playoff format look like? Will travel restrictions be modified for players traveling to North America? How many tests are required for teams? What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?
These are questions that need answers, with no easy solutions. By not setting a date, the NHL is setting a target for return in a fluid situation.
Underpinning these decisions is the direction of the virus.
The health of all the stakeholders involved is paramount. Safety measures as agreed upon by the owners and players must be in place before players compete in games.
In these pandemic times, sports fans are starving for news and content. With the NHL’s announcement on Tuesday, it represents effective publicity for a league in need of an economic boost.
Despite the details that need figuring out, it’s better to be having a return to play conversation than nothing at all.