Yesterday, I reported that the NHL wants and expects for teams to play regular-season home games in their own buildings – with the proviso that nothing is final yet and things are still fluid. I believe that is still very much the hope for the league, which would greatly prefer not to go back to a “hub city” schedule scenario like we had in the playoffs.
There are complicating factors for this to happen, though, one being that teams in some states/cities currently have severe restrictions on gatherings/travel/opening-for-business because of COVID-19. Take the San Jose Sharks, for example. Right now, they are a team essentially without a home, because of the severe restrictions in their area, Santa Clara County (our San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng has exhaustively detailed the situation here). The Sharks are likely to hold their training camp in Arizona, and might have to play their regular-season home games there or another city.
But while the league still plans to have as many games played in their teams’ own buildings as possible, one solution to cut down on the back-and-forth travel from city to city would be to have what be a “series” between two teams, a la Major League Baseball, where both teams are in the same city for several days at a time. The regular-season games are all expected to be played within the same division, which means the Avalanche would only play seven opponents in what is hoped-to-be a 56-game schedule.
With eight teams in the newly realigned Pacific Division, that would mean each team would play each other eight times (that number could be tweaked, as there could be a “special” game or two for teams against those from another conference or division). So, to cut down on back-and-forth travel and therefore cut down on the chances of infections, you could see, say, a three- or four-game series between the Avs and the Vegas Golden Knights at Ball Arena and vice-versa at T-Mobile Arena.
This would allow teams to be in their own buildings and allow players and staffers to still be with their families – something that is important to the NHLPA. Sure, that means the road team would spend up to a week, maybe more, in the same city. But one week is much more tolerable than, say, three months in the same bubbled hub city.
This stuff is all still fluid. The elephant in the room remains the virus, which doesn’t care about anybody’s preferred schedule or travel plans. If the virus continues to rage out of control, hub cities may have to be a reality again. Players are going to hate it and push back hard if that’s what the league says. But both sides very much want to have some kind of season, so if that’s the desperation measure that has to be implemented for it to happen, then it’ll have to happen.
We’re still in the year of our Lord, 2020, don’t forget.