Should the NHL return, as it hopes to, this summer?
Many entities certainly want to see the National Hockey League return at some point during the summer and present the Stanley Cup.
The fans, the players and certainly the owners – who are missing out on millions of dollars of revenue – are eager for the NHL to resume despite the coronavirus pandemic.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that’s the reason the league announced plans to go declare the regular season and go right into a 24-team playoff. Under the plan, 12 teams from each conference would compete in two hub cities and likely in arenas with no fans – if and when the league returns over the next few months.
The plan means the season is over for the Red Wings, who had clinched the league’s worst record (17-49-5, 39 points), and six other teams.
"Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible,” Bettman told NHL.com. “And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion."
But just because a return to the ice in 2020 – after the season was suspended on March 12 – is what all of those parties want doesn’t mean that is what should happen.
Covid-19 has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States and Canada in less than four months. And while several entities around the world are feverishly working on a vaccine, according to the World Health Organization and the United States’ Center for Disease Control, the absolute earliest one could become available to the public is by the end of the year.
And when you’re talking about a virus that is mainly transmitted from person to person via micro droplets expelled from and breathed in by the mouth and nose, it’s hard to see how any sport played in close quarters and that is physical and intense like hockey, particularly the playoff variety, can be safe for the athletes.
And what happens when a goal is scored or when a team wins a game and the clock has counted down to :00? Will players not mob each other in celebration?
Yes, there will certainly be testing, and that will help tell who might have the virus. But we have learned that not all of the tests have proven to be dependable.
And it’s true that Covid-19 is far more dangerous to those over 50 with pre-existing conditions and of color, and NHL players are younger, in great condition and, generally, Caucasian. Bu, an untold number of young, previously healthy, athletic and white individuals have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the U.S. and Canada, and thousands more from that group have died from it.
Still, Bettman says safety is the most important thing.
"I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount," he said. "While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so.”
National Hockey Players Association executive director Donald Fehr said he also wants to see the Stanley Cup awarded. But he is also looking at the big picture.
"I certainly hope that we can (award the Cup). I certainly hope that is the case," he told NBCSN. "I certainly hope that all the necessary agreements, health and safety, and economic, and the rest can be finalized, so that they can take place.
“But I hope it is for another reason, because if we can, that would suggest that the world is beginning to return a little bit towards normal, and that's something that everybody wants and is in everybody's interest, and we can't forget that."