It might not be for a very long time, but the 2019-20 season deserves a conclusion

It’s a travesty that the story of the 1994 Montreal Expos finished with a forgettable 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Through the early 1990s, the Expos slowly built their team, steadily improving with each passing year. By the time 1994 rolled around, right after watching their younger cousins down the road, the Toronto Blue Jays, become the first Canadian team to bring the World Series north of the border, the Expos had assembled the best baseball team Montreal had ever seen.

There was veteran ace Ken Hill at the top of a deep starting rotation, there was Canadian hero Larry Walker flanking the middle of a potent lineup, and there was lock-down closer John Wetteland coming out of the bullpen in the ninth inning. They were the best team in baseball.

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The 1994 season should have won with Walker driving in the go-ahead run and Wetteland coming in to slam the door, giving the Expos their first-ever World Series. It didn’t. Instead, the 1994 season ended on August 11th with the Expos losing a 4-0 snoozer to the Pirates.

Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement had expired in December of 1993. Due to a worsening financial situation in baseball, the league’s 28 owners suggested implementing a salary cap. While the owners suggested this would increase parity and fairness to small-market teams, the Players Association vehemently argued that it was simply a way to drive down the cost of paying players.

The 1994 season went on without a CBA signed. By the time July rolled around, the Players Association set August 12th as a drop-dead date. If there wasn’t a deal they agreed with by that time, they would go on strike.

It took until March 1995 to come to a conclusion. While the teams were ready to go ahead with replacement players, the United States District Court supported an unfair labour practices complaint and ruled that MLB and the PA were to be bound to the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement until a new one was reached. The 1995 season kicked off a few weeks later with teams playing an abbreviated 144-game schedule.

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For most teams, things pretty much picked up right where they left off. That wasn’t the case for the Expos. In a matter of just a few days, the cash-strapped Expos were forced to deal away Hill and Wetteland and let Walker leave in free agency. The team that sat at the top of Major League Baseball when the 1994 season ended was a shell of its former self by 1995.

All fans of the Expos are left with from that 1994 season is one giant what if. What if the season was finished? What if the team won the World Series? What if Montreal, who had watched loser after loser after loser since getting a team in 1969, became a baseball town, thanks to that one, magical run? What if it led to them being able to keep their stars around? What if it resulted in them getting a new stadium, superior to the wildly inadequate giant ashtray that had been built for the 1976 Olympics? Would the Expos still be in Montreal today?

There will never be answers to those questions. Instead, the 1994 season is simply remembered as arguably the darkest point in baseball history. That’s what happens when you start something and you don’t finish it.

The National Hockey League is currently facing the possibility of having to put to rest the 2019-20 season due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. First, let me be clear, these situations are wildly dissimilar and are incredibly unfair to compare. The 1994 MLB season got cancelled because of greed while what we’re facing right now is a terrifying, real-world circumstance. Not awarding a Stanley Cup in 2020 is not the same thing as not awarding a World Series in 1994.

But still, there’s something to be drawn from this. What the 1994 season and the story of the Expos gives us is an example of why the NHL should aim to prioritize a conclusion to the 2019-20 season rather than wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch with a new season.

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It’s going to be a long time before we get to watch sports again. As frustrating as that is, it’s really just a trivial part of this whole situation compared to the other ramifications that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed on the world. The top priority right now is the health and safety of everybody and professional sports are well down the list of things that really matter.

Still, sports are something incredibly important to us. They give us something to bond over, something to look forward to, and something to think about. Not having sports has left many of us with a massive, gaping hole in our lives. In the past, sport has served as a way to heal society through catastrophic events like World War II and 9/11.

As of right now, the NHL has been proactive in planning the possibility of determining a Stanley Cup winner late into the summer. That said, the NHL has also claimed that its priority is ensuring that the 2020-21 season not be disrupted. Instead, the priority should be concluding 2019-20 when it’s safe to do so.

I don’t know how it would work. The logistics are difficult, obviously. You have players with expiring contracts and you have television deals and local broadcasting rights and stadium availability to worry about. But is anything going to be simple to iron out? I mean, we’re moving into uncharted waters here.

When it’s safe to have games again, finish the last couple weeks of the season and play the playoffs. Maybe it’s this winter and we see a Stanley Cup awarded on Christmas. Maybe it’s next spring. Who knows. Finish off this season when the time comes and worry about a shortened version of the following season after that. Give the players and the teams the chance to finish what they started.

The world will most certainly never be the same. Let us all come out of this thing with a small sense of triumph that we’re picking up where we left off. I hate the idea of the 2019-20 Oilers season coming to an end with a 4-2 loss to the Jets.

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