Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

One Neutral Site Won’t Work For The NHL, But For Some Reason, Four Might?

New day, new harebrained scheme for Gary Bettman and the NHL.
New day, new harebrained scheme for Gary Bettman and the NHL.
Photo: Getty

Time for our routine check-in of the batshit ideas leagues are kicking around to finish their seasons and playoffs. They vary as to level of batshittiness (battyshit?), and the NHL is apparently lessening the level of theirs at the moment. Only barely, though.

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Yesterday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman put the kibosh on ideas of the league as a whole decamping to locales like North Dakota or New Hampshire to quarantine/sequester in one place while finishing out the season. Bettman stressed they need an NHL building for dressing rooms, equipment, technology, and the like, as well as a practice facility or two nearby. Sadly, this will deprive us of various hockey media members wailing like a siren and enacting out their own version of “Passion of the Christ” about having to spend extended time in places that aren’t Nashville, Vegas, or New York, a favorite pastime of theirs.

We might have ended up with Hockey Jonestown. Or as it would have been probably called, “Jonesytown.”

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A one-site solution was always going to be next to untenable, given the amount of facilities and side-workers needed to keep everyone safe. As with any plan, rampant, rapid testing is going to be the minimum requirement, both to ensure the health of everyone involved while also assuring that they’re not draining tests and resources from society at large to stage hockey games.

The newer plan is to go to four “host” sites. At first it was thought it would be by division, but Bettman has said it doesn’t have to be. If you squint hard, you could see this working down the road, at least for the playoffs. The NHL’s divisional playoff format means that only four teams would be at each site, with each having their own dressing room and equipment/training space.

The lack of travel means games could be bunched up a bit, meaning the first two rounds could be completed in three weeks or so if needed. The third and fourth rounds, also involving just four teams, could be held at one of the four sites as well. Players probably wouldn’t balk too much at being away from their families for 2-3 weeks, though the longer stays of teams going into the conference final or farther could become problematic.

Everyone necessary to pull this off outside of the NHL (such as hotel workers, bus drivers, arena employees/ice maintenance crew, etc.) would probably still be a little cross about having to be boxed up for three weeks.

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But three weeks can be enticing with the right compensation, you’d have to think.

Finishing the regular season is more complicated. One, it’s doubling the amount of teams at each arena for however long (except for the Central Division, which only has seven teams). For instance, creating four separate dressing rooms for one team each sounds doable. Having those four accommodate two teams each sounds complicated and far riskier.

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Second, the schedule would have to be redone for just intra-division games to round out the season, or teams would have to shuttle between the four sites. And more travel isn’t what anyone should be after here. An intra-division only finish to the season also isn’t terribly fair when teams are competing for wildcard spots against teams in other divisions. Changing the system to simply the top-four in each division making the playoffs more than 3/4 through the season doesn’t seem like something that could easily pass.

Of course, none of this seems to matter much when the players union hasn’t heard word one about any plan. That’s according to Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, and as he’s the Canadiens’ alternate player rep to the union, he would know. Gallagher also goes on to highlight the divisions that will pop up in the union. As he says, players on teams like the Canadiens would rather just wait around for the ‘20-’21 season, because they’re well outside of the playoff picture and finishing the regular season now is something of a chore. But those players on teams that have a chance to win the Cup are going to want to play, no matter how late and weird. Whenever the NHL gets around to involving the players in discussion, it won’t be a rubber stamp.

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All of this is of course pie-in-the-sky stuff, as nowhere in this country or Canada looks anywhere near being able to provide the testing and other measures that this would require.

But it’s something other than the end of the world and society’s descent into The Purge to discuss.

Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?

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