All professional sports in the United States have been put on pause in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and more than a month into the shutdown, leaguestimetables for restarting. The NHL has reportedly been looking at options to restart the season, or go straight to the playoffs during the summer and the idea appears to be gaining even more traction among executives in the league.
In a conference call on Wednesday, Florida Panthers president Matt Caldwell said that the NHL is looking to restart the season in July, according to the Miami Herald.
Caldwell says that the goal is "to finish this season in some way, shape, or form."
The Panthers president revealed that the NHL and NBA are working together to come up with plans to restart their respective seasons.
"Once we feel it's a safe time to start bringing [teams] back to practice facilities and bring them back to the ice, we're going to constantly monitor them and work on getting them back," Caldwell added. "When we start playing, if we resume the season this summer, I think there will be an empty or limited arena format."
The NHL has been on pause since March 12 and initially thought that the league could return in May. Right now, NHL players are being quarantined at home until the end of April, but there's a possibility that the quarantine could be extended.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month that the league is considering all of their options. North Dakota had been mentioned as a potential neutral site if the league resumes play, but according to ESPN's Greg Wyshynski, the NHL is no longer considering having games played at neutral sites. Wyshynski reports that the "neutral site" idea never got off the ground due to issues with player accommodations, facilities for staff, and the ability to bring broadcasting crews to cover postseason games.
With a single neutral site no longer being considered, the league is looking at having games at regional NHL arenas where teams could potentially finish their seasons. Wyshynski also reports that the home arenas for the Carolina Hurricanes (Metropolitan Division), Edmonton Oilers (Pacific Division), and Minnesota Wild (Central Division) are viewed as the "current favorites." The Atlantic Division has yet to come up with a favorite thus far.
Earlier this month,that the league made it clear that their "preference and priority" is to have regular season games before the postseason begins.
The NHL has played the large majority of its season with teams playing as many as 71 games and as few as 68, and there are several playoff races that are still very close. The Boston Bruins hold an eight-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division, but in the other three divisions, there are three points or fewer separating the top two teams. Also, there are 11 teams within striking distance of a wild card spot.
The postseason format may have to be altered if the league holds more regular season games when it returns. Typically, 16 wins over four rounds are required to hoist the Stanley Cup, but circumstances may force the league to change the playoff schedule.
Additionally, TSN's Darren Dreger conducted a "flash poll" with 24 general managers, and 20 said that they would be in favor of a best-of-five series from the opening round until the conference final. Those general managers still prefer a seven-game series to determine the Stanley Cup Champion. The other four want to leave the postseason as all seven-game series.
There are quite a few hurdles that the NHL will have to clear before making their final decision about what to do with the 2019-20 season, but the league is working toward making sure there is a Stanely Cup champion for 2020.