What will the hockey world look like in a post-virus scenario?

Marc Elliott

FOND-DU-LAC… As I write this eve, we are on Day 43 of no ice hockey, professional or amateur. And I guess all things considered, I’m dealing with it better then I thought I would.

The moment I begin to think about how I’d most likely be in the middle of watching a Stanley Cup game or three tonight, the sobering reality of the current global situation reminds me first and foremost of what is most important in this world and it isn’t my ability to view hockey every night, unscathed by the events that are currently devastating to so many other people and families.

I have been “laying low” as the saying goes, which isn’t that unusual from the way my life is sans global catastrophe. I live a fairly quiet existence. I know how lucky I am.   Within me, I have fear for and honor of those who are on the frontlines of assisting the victims of this dreadful and potentially fatal malady, one of whom is my own daughter Chelsey, performing lab work in Duluth five days a week. This week she was moved over to the hospital operated by the group she works for to assist in their vital work there. That makes me pretty nervous about her overall wellbeing and that of my third granddaughter that she will deliver come August. Pins and needles is an apt descriptive here. She and her fellow health care workers are heroes in my view, as are all others still performing the essential work needed to keep us going.

Am I scared for her? Yes I am.   

As we navigate these times the impatient among us are raring to return to normal as if we have been given some sort of “all clear” here, or they have been egged on by ignorant and irresponsible people with a bully pulpit to exercise their “freedoms” and go about their lives and business as if we no longer have anything to be concerned about. Many of them are claiming to be patriots. They aren’t. Sociopaths is a more accurate term for their ilk. These types are the most likely to become carriers and thus spreaders of the virus.

No one with any modicum of common sense can break through their noise machine though. They should be forced to wear hats that look like the enlarged photos of infected cells that we see on every newspage. Then again, they ARE easily identifiable, they like to gather in large groups and usually have weapons with them as if they will shoot anyone refusing to believe their idiotic blather.   

So, I’d love to see some puck right now, but I’ll be patient and I know that the NHL is in good hands because we have the smartest leadership in the sports world. In the face of financial devastation that this is creating for the league and all involved, I know that Gary Bettman isn’t going to resume with competition until it’s safe to do so, or if an alternative can be found whereby games could be held with total regard for everyone involved.

Maybe you like him, (I do) or maybe you don’t, but he is the smartest guy in the room when it comes to the sports business. The league will be OK. And when it re-emerges, if there are any teams that are on the edge, Bettman will figure out a way to help them persevere and get back at it. He has demonstrated that resolve many times over.   

For those fans that may not pay any attention to the business side of the game, the league is on the most solid financial footing it has ever been on and Bettman must get a lot of credit for that. Sadly, it IS losing revenue right now but when the smoke clears, he will examine that, propose a fix for it and make it happen. How do matters look in the here and now?

The league, on a daily basis, is staying abreast of the situation and analyzing a couple of things; can it complete the postponed regular season games? And if it can, how then to transition to a Cup tourney? The NHL has expressed a desire to do both of those things, and if it isn‘t possible, how to hold a Cup tourney and award it to a winner before commencing another regular season?   

If you were to play out the various scenarios with contingencies to as many levels as possible, (as I’m certain Bettman would do) how does it unfold? And if the regular season can’t be completed, think of the considerations there. If that occurs and the Minnesota Wild for instance were eliminated from a playoff spot, is that Mikko Koivu’s final game in a Wild sweater?

How many other players on other clubs, regardless of being at a retirement age or not, would have played in the league for the last time? How many teams have coaching situations to solidify for that next season? And rosters are but one facet of the bigger picture. At the end of the day this will create one of the biggest transitory situations in league history for on and off ice personnel. It would be the end for some and opportunity creation for others.   

This could be a likely formation of a return to play right now based upon all of the info I could take in at this point. If the regular season was to play out, there would be a short training “camp” prior to play. If crowd gathering were still prohibited, the league is considering up to 4 “regional” arenas where all teams could complete that. (St. Paul is up for consideration)

Upon playoff position finalization, the Cup tourney would commence at those 4 sites. The traveling parties of each club would be of those most essential only, the number of media allowed would be to a minimum, with broadcast crews having first priority. Fans would not be allowed, so employees for concessions, parking etc, would be unnecessary. But once again, one of Bettman’s highest priorities is to see to it that the Cup is won by someone this season.   

The beginning of a “next” regular season can’t be mapped out until this season has some type of official conclusion. Will this have an impact on the current CBA in place? Perhaps so. How about any future CBA’s? Without doubt. There has also been recent chatter about NHL participation in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. As of this moment in time, China is the global pariah within all geopolitical virus contention.

While Bettman would consider that, it would be a small consideration in his world. When push comes to shove, I just don’t see the league viewing it’s participation in the Oly’s as essential to its current business model, and the league's decision to go has to create a tangible gain in Bettman’s view.

And please, while I keep my eyes on the league, you stay SAFE and HEALTHY… PEACE