Hope – it’s still not just a town in Arkansas. There is hope again about an NHL season starting next month. And, after talking to a high-level source at the NHL level, more than just hope. An expectation that a season will happen.
Ace TSN reporter Frank Seravalli had a nice scoop this morning:
Drafts were based on Jan. 1 start date, but sides discussed pushing that back (Jan. 15 or 16?).
Told talks were unrelated to recent economic requests.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 4, 2020
Now look: there are still some obstacles to actually dropping the puck by next month. The coronavirus continues to set new records daily and there are financial issues related to that – which I went over yesterday in a doomy and gloomy kind of column.
I also talked this morning with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly about this report, and he said to, essentially, pump the brakes a bit.
“Lots in play. Nothing agreed to,” Daly told Colorado Hockey Now.
But here’s the thing: there are talks, there are proposals, there are plans in play, there is some action again. It’s clear that the NHL really wants to have a season. This is not like 2004-05, when Gary Bettman, Daly and Co. had game-planned and war-chested for a lost season in order to break the NHLPA on a salary cap. Yes, the league will take another big financial bath if they have a fan-less regular season, but they’ll get the money back at some point – either from a bit more deferral/escow from players or some other kind of advance money (maybe from Seattle expansion, maybe from a prospective new TV partner (hello ESPN) or maybe from a GoFundMe page. But they’ll get the money back).
The NHL does have some time constraints as U.S. TV rights holder NBC owns the rights to the Olympic Games, which begin on July 15. NBC uses all of its television properties to broadcast the games, which means there would be no room for NHL playoff games beyond mid-July.
Obviously, players want to play too. They have gone without regular paychecks since March. They’ve no doubt gotten enough quality family time these last nine months. They are hockey players and they want to do what they do best – and get paid for it. They have to know that this is a unique situation with the virus, but that hope (there’s that word again) is there for a resumption to normal life reasonably soon with new vaccines on the way.
Of course, the NHLPA is led by Donald Fehr, a tough, smart negotiator who won’t just roll over and give the league everything it wants in this kind of a unique season. But, I mean, what’s his play otherwise? To have no season? For his players to make no money at all for another 9-10 months? Can’t see that happening.
A 56-game schedule sounds great, actually. While I’d rather have 82, that’s still plenty for a legit regular season, followed by a four-round playoff. By next fall, we’ll all be vaccinated and back in the buildings, yelling our lungs out.
That’s the hope anyway.