As the National Hockey League continues to work through getting games back in action with phase two well underway, the effects COVID-19 has on the league could be wide-reaching.
With the obvious delay in hockey, the league is scrambling to try and get hockey back in action. It’s forced them to host a 24-team play-in tournament and end their regular season in favour of the playoff format.
Hockey appears to be getting set to be played well into the summer months for the first time in league history.
It’s a groundbreaking move for the league and one that could forever shape the way hockey happens.
Elliotte Friedman reportedly said on Tuesday that the NHL may forever shift the league’s schedule.
Friedman also doesn't see how the NHL can get back to their usual October-June schedule without cutting games out, and the way this season and next will go and the amount of games lost, he doesn't see the NHL wanting to cut out even more games, he foresees a major schedule shift.
— NHL Watcher (@NHL_Watcher) June 9, 2020
To say this would be huge would be a massive understatement. For years the league has run under its current guise with training camps kicking off in August/September and league games getting underway in October.
The Stanley Cup is typically handed out in June with the offseason getting underway shortly thereafter. The draft would be held late in the month, and free agency would follow on July 1.
Then, we’d hit a bit of a quiet time as the offseason wore on. As we enter the middle of June with everyone in lockdown, the Stanley Cup clearly hasn’t been handed out yet (and its far away from being so) and the league is clearly considering a significant shift in the schedule.
If there’s one thing we know when it comes to a gate-driven league like the NHL, the last thing they want to do is to cut games from its schedules.
So that leads to the big questions: Could COVID-19 force the NHL to change the league schedule?
At the very least it appears the league is considering the changes, as it should. The NHL is constantly challenged by the other pro sports teams when it comes to viewership.
The NHL is directly challenged in terms of their schedule by the NBA. Basketball kicks off in October and its playoffs extend into June.
The NFL too has the majority of its games played in the fall and into the spring. The first games of the NFL season are played in early September and into late December. By February, the NFL championship is handed out.
Lastly, there’s the MLB. Their massive 162-game season starts in late March or early April with their championship handed out around the time the NHL season kicks off.
That brings us to hypotheticals for what the next NHL season could look like should the league decide they don’t want to drop any games from next seasons schedule.
I think theoretically for the sake of this article lets just peg the space between the Stanley Cup being handed out and the start of regular-season games as four months.
Continuing with the theory, let’s say best case scenario we’re able to have hockey back in August. An estimate for how long the play-in round and playoffs to happen is about two months meaning we’d see the cup handed out in October.
Let’s say early October which means four months later, we’d (in theory) see the NHL return for a full 82-game regular season, COVID-19 pending.
The NHL would then start their season in January and a nine-month season — playoffs included — would see the Stanley Cup handed out in September. We’d then see the NHL draft held in late September, Oct. 1 would be the start of free agency, and players could spend the winter months wherever they please, COVID-19 rules notwithstanding.
I don’t know numbers behind the viewership, but I would imagine the MLB and NBA are the closest major competitors for the NHL. The NFL only plays on select days during the week, while the other two major leagues, like the NHL, play games seven days a week.
The NHL would only have to compete with the MLB for the majority of their respective seasons.
All in all, it could be a significant, but weird shift in the way we see and cover hockey.
What say you, Nation? Would you be a fan of the NHL shifting their schedule like I laid out?
On Twitter: @zjlaing