After now two months and counting since the NHL and the rest of the sports world was forced to pause all activities in light of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s looking like this week should give the first actual news as far as what comes next. With the natural and needed caveat that at this point all plans are up in the air, tentative and still need player and team approval to finalize.
Again, tough to handicap at this point whether a format gets agreed upon this week or not but definite progress. A reminder that the NHL has a Board of Governors call Monday at 3 p.m. ET; and that the league may announce decision on the draft this week— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 17, 2020
LeBrun expanded further in a Sunday piece on The Athletic:
While there remains work to be done, and nobody involved is ready to say 100 percent where this is headed, sources confirm progress was made this weekend on a 24-team format for return to play.
I’m told the proposed 24-team format doesn’t go straight to the playoffs but involves games in some form before-hand. That would be something the players would have pushed for. Again, let me stress that both sides on the committee as of Sunday morning still had work to do on the format so it may yet change again.
But there’s a clear sense that both sides are closer on what a season resumption may look like.
Once the Return to Play committee finally agrees to a format (assuming it eventually does), the NHLPA’s executive board (31 player reps) would need to vote on it for approval.
The noteworthy part, at this point, is that it seems talks are serious and getting in gear. As the country slowly lurches towards trying to re-open, and considering what steps are prudent, the NHL has to lay the groundwork now. Games aren’t going to begin next week or anything, but plans have to be agreed upon to be set in motion.
The common thought from most credible national media sources seems to be leaning towards 24 teams coming back this season. Given natural logistic plans to get everyone in place, in shape and the buildings ready to go, it would feel like a return in June or maybe even July is what is in the cards.
For the Penguins, most of their players are in Pittsburgh right now and have been quarantining in place since mid-March, per NHL rules. No one has been on the ice or able to congregate, off-ice workouts have been the calling card. The Pens do have several players in Canada, but according to general manager Jim Rutherford last month, none of their players returned to their various homes in Europe. That’s not the case for players of all teams, and the US-Canada border is still closed for non-essential travel through May 21st (with the expectation that it is very likely to be extended). Hockey players who get traded from an American to a Canadian team (or vice versa) often get expedited work visas, so I guess we’ll see how or if that will also apply to get hockey players back in the States.
No matter how that important issue gets resolved — like many other important issues still up in the air right now — remains to be seen. It goes without saying this is uncharted waters for hockey, sports and society at large. The important factor at this point seems to be that there finally is some progress in the NHL as they look to make some decisions on what the next steps will be.
We’ll see just what they are, and when they’ll try to implement them. At this point, it looks like the next steps will be the NHL formalizing and announcing exactly what the plan will be, and how it will happen.
Right now that seems to mean 24 teams in some sort of a play-in situation that will lead to a “normal” 16 team playoff season. Obviously with no fans in the stands, and possibly in neutral hub locations, it’s not really going to be all that normal.
But the wheels look to be in motion as the league works with the players to figure out exactly how they want to approach getting back on the ice at some point this summer to close out the 2019-20 season.