NHL Commission Gary Bettman spoke on Tuesday about the 2020-2021 season. There are several questions here that pertain to the LA Kings.
On Tuesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman provided some insight into the 2020-2021 season. We already knew that the league had pushed back the tentative start date to January 1 from December 1. The LA Kings haven’t played a meaningful game since mid-March.
The league is expected to implement organized team activities similar to the NFL for the seven teams who failed to qualify for the playoff bubble approximately two weeks before officially opening their practice facilities to camp.
Among the ideas suggested by Bettman included teams playing in specific hubs. Keep in mind that he specifically mentioned a bubble similar to the return-to-play playoff format is not feasible. Rather, teams would travel to a location, play 10 to 12 games, then return home for a week.
Of course, the proper COVID testing protocols would have to be in place, so these players aren’t bringing anything back home to their families.
The primary challenge at this point has been what to do with the seven teams north of the U.S. border. The Commissioner stated there are no plans to temporarily relocate the Canadian teams to States. With Canada’s strict 14-day quarantine restrictions, it makes it awfully hard to schedule a normal season.
The province of Alberta has recently begun a pilot program of a reduced 48-hour quarantine, which, if successful, could provide a path to the remaining provinces being able to allow shorter quarantine periods from teams traveling south of the border.
It’s reasonable to assume that the NHL will experience positive cases next season, depending on when a proven vaccine becomes available. Much like the MLB and NFL, they’ve had to navigate around positive cases. Three questions need to be answered before the league can successfully schedule a season.
1. How will teams manage positive COVID cases?
The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals were the two teams in the MLB hit hardest by positive cases. MLB adapted on the fly implementing doubleheaders with seven innings to completion to get teams close to a 60-game season. Some teams came up short of 60 games, boiling down to the overall winning percentage to determine their playoff seeding.
The NHL is more challenging. Of course, games could be rescheduled. But if Bettman is planning on teams playing a dozen games in one location, let’s say two or three of those are postponed. Finding off days or periods where both teams are available could put a wrench in the overall plan. Perhaps the NHL will go off winning percentages at that point.
2. How will expanded rosters impact the game?
The NHL expanded playoff rosters in the bubble. With the uncertainty of the start date along with leagues like the OHL and AHL having projected later start dates, the league will almost certainly have to expand rosters again. How many extra players will be allowed, though? Two, Three, Four? Under this umbrella, guys like Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev could crack the Opening Night roster. How much playing time would they get, if any? Would they primarily practice with the team unless injuries or COVID cases arise?
3. Will the league allow all entry-level contracts to slide this year?
Another major question that would need to be addressed is whether the league would allow players on the expanded roster, who otherwise wouldn’t be with the NHL club, to have their entry-level contracts slide another year. Service time is a critical issue in the league, and referring back to question two, Byfield and Kaliyev likely wouldn’t have seen full-time roles until the 2021-2022 season.
With more than nine games played starting the clock on ELC’s, the league would have to be flexible. There will be a reduced schedule. Who knows how frequent players on the expanded roster will get to see the ice. Will they exceed nine games? Probably. But it’s not fair to them or the organization to start their clocks earlier than expected.