As COVID-19 continues to run rampant almost everywhere, the least of anyone’s worries is how it affects professional sports. As with most recreational activities, being a normal NHL fan who can go to games has been pretty much obliterated. This 2020-21 NHL season is certainly one to remember, but for the wrong reasons. Postponed games are the norm, not the exception. Players being placed on COVID protocol is mounting almost as much as the infected numbers. So, in this article, we will focus on how the pandemic has changed this current season, and perhaps beyond.
COVID-19 Wreaking Havoc on 2020-21 NHL Season
As the 2020-21 NHL season progresses towards its goal of playing a 56-game schedule, things have not gone as planned. It was never an easy decision whether to trash the season or try to live with it with restrictions. The NHL hierarchy decided on the latter, and it’s raised its ugly head. At one point recently, 18 members of the New Jersey Devils and 12 members of the Minnesota Wild were listed as being on the COVID protocol list. That has really placed a monkey wrench in the scheduling process the league has had to deal with and control.
Will all these postponed games and players testing positive affect the outcome of the NHL standings, and Cup winner? It already has. Every team in every season will have injuries, but now it is supplemented with COVID-19 protocols adding to the challenge.
The proposed rapid testing may alleviate some concerns, but accuracy isn’t 100 percent. Vaccines are coming, but we will still see a maligned season. Five NHL teams had to be shut down completely due to COVID concerns. It was so bad the league had to mandate new restrictions. It seems futile to remove the glass behind the benches to increase airflow when the only ones wearing masks are the coaches and maybe the backup goalie.
The Financial Burdens Hitting the 2020-21 NHL Season
NHL hockey is a gate driven sport. Think about it. No fans are being allowed in the majority of NHL arenas around the league. When they are allowed it is like 2,000-3,500 fans a game. No (or little) food and beverage revenue, no team merchandise sales, no parking revenue.
It has been determined that on the average an NHL team is out to lose about $1.31 million a game! With 28 home games being scheduled that amounts to $36.7 million of lost revenue. And, that’s just the average. Teams may have a rich billionaire like the Arizona Coyotes‘ owner Alex Meruelo, but he has other businesses which have been detrimentally affected by COVID-19 as well. His other businesses include casinos, restaurants, and construction endeavours. COVID-19 doesn’t care it continue to be relentless.
Salary Cap Effects
It may take several seasons to recoup the losses every NHL franchise is incurring. Forget about the NHL salary cap rising, as was planned. That can’t even be considered until the teams start generating income again. Don’t expect the NHL cap to go up, in fact, it may need to go down. The burden that places on every team is obvious. Rosters need to be evaluated more closely and huge contracts may be the thing of the past to be more conservative with the budget. This also has affected the developmental leagues where NHL players start out before beginning an NHL career. With the border restrictions between Canada and the U.S., lots of young players have not been able to play and therefore develop.
Does this hurt the game? You bet. It becomes a real challenge that the NHL and all its teams have had to struggle with and solve.
While we as NHL fans are glad to be seeing hockey, it’s just not the same. There’s no doubt that it will get better, especially with the vaccine being distributed at a fast pace. The point is, this NHL season is a wash. It isn’t even close to the 2012-13 shortened season of 48 games due to a labour disagreement. The reason? That season all the games were played under close to normal conditions without star players being pulled from games due to a pandemic.
This season is an anomaly and hopefully before it ends things will return to close to normal. The goal of getting the season over by mid-July could be in jeopardy unless the positive tests decrease rapidly. Eventually, there won’t be games later in the season to rearrange to current needs of rescheduling due to protocol restrictions.
The other factor which has yet to be determined is when a player tests positive, is it a faulty test? If not, will the player’s future health be affected in a damaging way? What kind of legal ramifications can that bring to the league?
All in all it’s a nightmare, and hopefully soon we will wake up to what normality used to feel like.