As the US is in the midst of potentially its worst couple of weeks in the COVID-19 pandemic, sports leagues have started to plan ahead for returns in the coming months.
President Donald Trump held a conference call with leading sports figures on April 4 and expressed that he expected fans to be back in arenas by late summer. But all of the planning and ideas are still very much controlled by something that has been hard to control. The ability of the US to flatten the curve of the coronavirus will dictate how soon any league can reasonably think about returning.
Lots of moving parts
The NHL could face obstacles as tough as any league. With a high international player base, there would need to be a lot of effort just to safely and legally get players back into the country before preparation for the season to resume. Along with that, the NHL’s 2020-21 season begins in early October – multiple weeks before the NBAs. The NHL already has a shorter offseason and would need some time off after the playoffs for free agency and rest purposes. League officials will need to decide if it’s worth potentially moving back the start of next season to fit in regular season games from this one, or if they’d rather move straight into a tournament or the playoffs to move things along.
It’s been a month since the NHL officially postponed the season. The league has already had to move back its self-quarantine guideline multiple times. It currently sits at April 15 but considering the current state of COVID-19 in the US, that will likely get moved back again any day now.
Different arenas being considered
The current rumor for the NHL return is using non-NHL cities and arenas when the league comes back.
One city that has been mentioned in multiple reports is Grand Forks, North Dakota. It’s a facility that could certainly handle the NHL, and the mostly remote region hasn’t been hit hard by coronavirus. Fans wouldn’t be allowed in, so arena size wouldn’t be an issue. In this scenario, there would be multiple regions used in some type of tournament-style of play. Manchester, New Hampshire has also been mentioned as a possibility – according to broadcaster John Shannon.
With such a tight playoff race that is currently going on in the NHL, reports say the league could use this tournament-styled playoff to bring in as many as 24 teams to ensure no team is unfairly left out for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
It’s safe to assume at this point the entirety of the 189 games remaining on the NHL regular season schedule won’t be played. So giving any team a chance that could’ve still made the playoffs while also getting the season done as quickly as possible would be a best-case scenario. The latest the Stanley Cup has ever been handed out is late June. It’s safe to assume that will change to August or September this year.
Stanley Cup odds
When the NHL does come back, it will be interesting to see the format for how the Stanley Cup is rewarded and how that could impact teams and their odds to win it all.
FanDuel Sportsbook currently has the Boston Bruins as the favorite to lift the Cup at +600 odds. The Tampa Bay Lightning (+700), Colorado Avalanche (+850), St. Louis Blues (+950) and Vegas Golden Knights (+950) follow as the top five favorites.
Any type of tournament that could potentially feature shorter series could open up for a surprise champion, making teams with higher odds intriguing as the market waits to see what happens.
The Chicago Blackhawks have dealt with a tough season in an even tougher division as they sit last in the Central Division with a 32-30-8 record for 72 points. They’ve played solid hockey as of late, winning six of their last 10 games. FanDuel has them as one of eight teams with +25000 odds at the bottom of the league. They wouldn’t have a chance at the Stanley Cup unless the NHL introduces a league-wide tournament to decide the champion.