There were numerous challenges last season in order to complete the NHL season after the covid-19 pandemic interrupted playing. Having games played inside the bubble worked and ultimately crowned the Tampa Bay Lightning as Stanley Cup champions.
One option the NHL is considering a schedule where all teams host games in their home arenas. The games may be played with or without fans. The theory is that teams will want to continue to play as usual, regardless of whether or not fans are in attendance. That appears to be a good formula if travel is safe from city to city. With Covid-19 cases appearing to be on the rise again, there are no certainties in relation to potential travel restrictions. To complete the messy picture, authorities may cancel all or some games for health reasons should the situation worsens.
The other scenario, which may not be the players choice, but could be the safer of the two, is to have teams play in hub cities that are deemed the safest based on the number of Covid-19 cases. However, suppose after the hub cities are set, there is a spike in Covid-19 cases. What happens at that point? The bubble worked in the NBA and the idea was clearly that the hub cities would provide a safer and more controlled environment.
There is also concern that, despite measures taken, Covid-19 will hit, forcing games to be cancelled, with numerous players put on the Covid-19 disabled list. This happened in Major League Baseball and in the National Football League. The good news is that MLB was able to complete an abbreviated schedule and World Series, while the NFL is 2/3 through and appear heading for a similar outcome. Europeans are experiencing something similar where football is going on despite several footballers have been quarantined.
The NHL appears to want to drop the puck as early as January 1 with a two-week training camp period and an extra week for the teams not part of the return to play last season. Therefore, the league must move quickly, and I wonder if there is enough time to get everything set.
While everyone wants to make sure a season will be played, rushing to get started by a set time may do more harm than good in the long run, if careful consideration and planning are not properly implemented. The question of realignment of the divisions in order to have teams travel at a minimum is also a factor involved in the final decision.
Whatever is done, one thing is clear. Time is running short if the season wants to begin in January. There is a chance that a schedule less than half a season will be played, similar to that of Major League Baseball, which played 60 games, or about 38 percent of a regular season. Would that be ideal? Clearly not, but any schedule that combines ultimate safety is better than rushing or no schedule at all.