The NHL is stopped, and it’s not the only thing. All other major league sports around the world are either postponed or cancelled. Concerts are postponed, businesses are either shut down or working under difficult conditions, some are forced to work from home. Doctors, first respondents and hospital staff are exhausted. Everyone has to adjust to this terrible Coronavirus pandemic. This situation is not without reminding me of a quote by the great Martin Luther King Jr… “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has a tough decision to make. So far, he’s been sitting on the fence waiting it out, asking teams and players to be ready to start again. Perhaps he’s an eternal optimist, or maybe he prefers listening to Donald Trump instead of the experts on pandemics? Either way, he’s waiting and keeping everyone involved on their toes.
Basically, he has only two options. The option of continuing the season has many moving parts and decisions to make, while the second option is very straight forward. They are:
Option 1- Finish the season and/or playoffs
Let’s say, in his wisdom, Bettman decides to finish this season. Or perhaps jump straight into playoffs. For one, we know that we are nowhere close to that kind of announcement and experts on the matter in North America predict that the pandemic should peak by mid-May at the earliest. Peak, which means that you need to go through the downslope after, right? So it would be by early to mid-June before officials give the thumbs-up to progressively start gathering in groups.
Since the NHL has played its last games on March 11th, players will need another training camp as “keeping in shape” is no different now than it is during the Summer months. I would venture to say that it’s worse, since they must train at home instead of in gymnasiums and outdoors. Let’s say they give them two weeks tops to prepare. We’re now in mid-June or early July before the real games start.
Option 2- Cancel this season
A few very important factors supports the cancellation of the season.
1- No matter what format you use for playoffs, starting play at the end of June would mean that the 2019-20 season (playoffs included) wouldn’t end until mid-August at the very earliest. Training camps start in September folks. Players would have about a month of free time to licking their wounds and train for the 2020-21 season! Hockey being arguably the most demanding sport on the body, this would spell suicide for the players.
2- By starting this late, the NHL would be competing directly with Major League Baseball, which might not seem to be a big deal to most Canadians outside Toronto, but a sport that is huge in the United States. Hockey would also be competing with the National Football League, perhaps the biggest player in the US. I wouldn’t pretend to know the answer but one has to wonder how many fans are fans of teams of different sports? If there’s a Stars’ game and a Cowboys’ game in Dallas, for example, where will those common fans go? And if the schedules are not competing, can they afford to go to both?
3- Last but not least, the fans. Aside from the fact that many of us have other things to do than sit and watch hockey in the Summer months, there is a much bigger and more serious reality that the NHL must consider. Will fans be ready to return to arenas? Let’s face facts here… this pandemic doesn’t have a vaccine and spreads extremely easily and rapidly. Virus experts are telling everyone who want to listen that there will be a second wave, possibly even a third wave before it all blows over.
With that in mind, here’s the question:
Knowing all of that, would YOU be willing to go sit in an arena with 18-21,000 strangers, elbow to elbow, in line at the gates and at the concessions, walking through crowds before and after games, and in between periods?
I thought about it and I have to say that personally, I would not risk it. Not yet. I would prefer to take the much safer and more responsible “wait and see” approach. My life and the life of those I love is worth so much more than the risk taken to watch a hockey game live. This disease has no preferences. It kills young and old, no matter the religion, language spoken or race. I would not be ready to risk it… yet.
It is my humble opinion that “doing the right thing” must come before greed and Mr. Bettman has to have the players’ back in this by having the testicular fortitude to sell the owners into cancelling the season, and hope for the best for the start of training camp in the Fall. The NHL should focus on the off-season with events such as the prospects combine, the Draft, free agency, and prepare to start fresh in September… with an option in case this pandemic isn’t finished.
Greed, you say? Owners’ greed? Players’ greed? The desire to make money over missing part of a season? Hmmm… let’s see… Did greed stop Bettman from locking out the players in the last three CBA negotiations, even going as far as missing a full season the one time? Did the players survive? I mean, how many regular Joes have lost their jobs, people who make far less than millionaire and multi-millionaires, because of COVID-19? And are the NHL owners and players more greedy than in MLB, NBA, NFL, who have all cancelled or postponed their activities? See you next year, hockey fans! Go Habs Go!