NHL: Return Date Fleeting as Collaboration Stumbles

I don’t have to tell you that the NHL has a lot of work to do before getting any semblance of a 2020-2021 season off and running.

Now, the league still has January 1 as the start date for the season.

But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke online Wednesday at the Sports Business Journal’s ‘Dealmakers in Sports’ conference and cleared the air regarding some of the issues facing the NHL and the NHLPA going forward.

Needless to say, progress is on the slow side.

“COVID[-19] is going through a second wave,” he said, “which could be worse than the first wave, and between Thanksgiving and the aftermath and what they think is going to happen for Christmas and the aftermath, we are taking our time and making sure that as we look for ways to move forward we’re focused on health and safety and doing the right things.”

Bettman asserted that a return to play was a “work in progress” and restated the league would be taking its time sorting things out.

When you consider what has to go down before the NHL gets rolling, that January 1 date is a little more than variable.

The NHLPA has to sign off on some sort of training camp, which would be on the shorter side. A pre-season game or two would also be in the works.

Importantly, Bettman asserted that the league has not asked the NHLPA to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement. Short-term issues are being discussed, but the NHL does have to keep any long-term implications in mind as well given the lack of economic certitude sure to lie ahead.

“We’re not actually having negotiations and we’re not seeking to renegotiate,” Bettman said. “We made a number of assumptions collectively over the summer, most of which are not applicable anymore. There are a lot of things that we have to deal with if we’re going to return to play.”

Given the NHL and its owners will almost certainly not sell tickets during the 2020-2021 season, the “number of assumptions” Bettman’s talking about relates to an unavoidable fiscal reality.

The NHLPA hasn’t talked money with the NHL since the league’s two mid-November proposals and they haven’t shown willingness to change the existing agreement, which originated in July. That has put any spirit of cooperation aside, a far cry from how the two sides worked closely to make sure hockey could happen in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles.

So, where do we go from here?

The NHL’s indicated start date seems hard to reach given the lack of protocols, the lack of any announcement of hub cities, and so forth. There’s a lot of work to do before hockey can return and, with less than a month to go, getting back on the ice for January 1 will take serious effort. If the two sides can proceed under some measure of goodwill, we may get there. But personally, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Image: NHL

Published by Dr. Pucksworth

Doctor of Puckanomics.

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