After an exciting couple of days that included the NHL releasing a 21 page Phase 2 document outlining the conditions and protocols for NHL Clubs to begin having players train at their facilities on an optional basis we now know... basically the same amount as before. While the results of the executive board vote of the NHLPA has given the go-ahead for further discussions of the 24-team playoff format, that doesn’t really give us any better of an idea of what the playoffs might look like – it doesn’t even guarantee that the 24-team format will be the one that ends up being put into action (if, indeed, anything ever does... there’s still a lot of union and governmental hoops for the league to jump through before hockey gets anywhere close to returning). Similarly, the Phase 2 plan, while quite comprehensive of the possibility of Clubs beginning to reopen their facilities to allow players to get back on the ice, with very limited contact with each other, doesn’t cover anything beyond that first small step. We still don’t know where the hubs will be located, when games might resume, or what health and safety measures will be put in place (or are even feasible) once full team practices resume.

So, in the face of all that uncertainty, I’ve decided to just ignore the near future to start doing some more long term speculating. The fact that this pandemic will impact the 2020-21 season has long been inevitable, and whether or not there will be fans in the stands at any point in the next season is deeply questionable. The good news of going through all of this uncertainty and negotiation right now is that it won’t have to be repeated once the 2020-21 season starts – whatever safety protocols are being put in place to wrap up the 2019-20 season should be good enough to carry forward into the next season (and if they’re not... well, that’s a whole other set of issues). While some of the protocols might relax as public health situations change in various locations, they’re unlikely to intensify, meaning that however the 2019-20 season wraps up, the 2020-21 season, most likely, will start.

When the 2020-21 season will start will obviously depend on when – or if – the 2019-20 playoffs take place. The NHLPA will have conditions related to the length of an offseason the players must be granted after those playoffs, so the new season will be pushed well into the later half of 2020, if not fully into 2021. The most logical thing at that point would seem to be a shortened season – pushing the season into the summer would just create a self-perpetuating problem. With a shortened season then being inevitable, it seems logical that the league might as well get it over with in that first season, though it will most likely represent another financial hit to the league after the one already taken this season (I am vigorously ignoring what this means for the Leafs’ cap... gymnastics). What I think is an interesting question is whether or not this will give the league the impetus to experiment with a shortened season in a more permanent sense.

There are a lot of arguments in favour of a shortened season (as well as many against), including the fact that it would undeniably be much kinder on players’ bodies to play even a handful fewer games. It would also give the league more space to market their special games, such as the overseas or outdoor games. The NHL, whether through general incompetence in marketing or just not having enough time, does really seem to struggle to market itself, and what should be its most exciting marquee games, to existing fans, much less new ones. For example, I just learned by googling it for this article that the Sabres apparently went to Sweden this year? Did everyone else know that?

All of this is of course something that will only get addressed after the more immediate concerns of ending the 2019-20 season get resolved... but it’s nice to think about a different problem for a bit.


NHL’s 24-team playoff format is only half-baked
The league is heading towards a 24-team playoff, with the NHLPA’s executive board having voted yes to that format, but the important thing to remember is that nothing is certain and no one actually knows anything.

NHL release details of their Phase 2 training rules
The rules cover various health and safety protocols for reopening rinks and having small team workouts, but is still far from a signal of an imminent return to play.

Back to Excited Episode 106: 24 Team Playoffs, Adam Brooks
Among other things, the latest episode of Back to Excited covers everyone’s most burning playoff related question: should the Leafs call up Nick Robertson?

From the Branches

Misunderstood NHLPA vote: Many hurdles remain before next vote on Return to Play
Devan Dubnyk talks with The Athletic about what is being missed in the reporting on the executive board vote, and how limited the scope of that vote was.

How do the Toronto Maple Leafs match up with the Columbus Blue Jackets in a potential best-of-five?
Wondering what the Leafs’ proposed first round matchup might look like? Maple Leafs Hot Stove has you covered.

Canada’s NHL teams offer varying refund options to season-ticket holders
If you’re a season-ticket holder and were wondering what’s up... here’s the roundup.

And finally, this year’s Draft remains a mystery.

Should the league take this as an opportunity to shorten the season permanently?

Yes, 82 games is too long110
No, 82 games is perfect56
No, and actually they should increase it8