The National Hockey League is not exactly known for its ingenuity.
Its most successful invention in the past 15 years was “a hockey game, but outside.” They moved from 5-on-5 overtime to 4-on-4 overtime, added a shootout, realized the shootout was terrible, and the solution was 3-on-3 hockey. Again, not exactly reinventing the wheel here.
But when faced with an unprecedented crisis in their 2019-20 campaign, having to shut it down for COVID-19, it was ingenuity that saved the season. The summer restart ran so smoothly that we’ve taken for granted how the NHL and the players figured out the two-hub plan, expansion of the playoffs, all-day schedules of games and the like while also negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that addressed the economic calamity in the months and years ahead.
The 2020-21 season demands that same spirit of ingenuity, and even more of it. The owners and players will have to navigate more choppy financial waters, as NHL teams want further salary deferments while the players believe they already gave at the office, aka addressed this in the just-settled CBA.
(For the record, I think the players end up capitulating here. They want to play. If the owners don’t get that deferral, some of the ones on the fence about playing at all could tumble to the other side of the issue. We’ll start to hear the word “lockout” a bit more. You never want to hear the word “lockout.”)
After the financial issues are settled, there needs to be an ingenious approach to the 2020-21 season. How many games should they play? Where should they play them? What happens in the playoffs?
I have some thoughts, and I have an ideal 2020-21 sketched out here. Keep in mind that the best-laid plans for all involved hang in the balance of spiking COVID-19 rates. These plans detailed here involve games being played in home arenas and a schedule that, while nimble, isn’t yet derailed by coronavirus-related postponements. As NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is fond of saying, we probably don’t finish the season in the same manner in which we start it. But for starters, here’s my plan for the 2020-21 NHL season.