NHL Has Right 2020 Restart Plan

Larry Brooks of the NY Post reported the NHL is starting to formulate their plans to return to play in 2020. When you look at the plans, it should be the model for what every sports league tries to do this season. That is for leagues like the NBA who are also trying to to restart their games, and for MLB and the NFL who are trying to begin their seasons in 2020.

The NHL plan first looked at locations where they could play, and they ulimately determined remote locations do not work as they lack sufficient infrastructure to host one, let alone, several NHL teams and games. Overall, they are looking for a location(s) which make sense, playing without fans, and setting up a system for testing and other protocols for a safe return to play.

The return to play is where things get interesting.

With the COVID19 shut down, there are many issues which need to be addressed by the NHL and other leagues. Those issues include how many games you can actually play, being fair to teams who still had a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and the draft. The plan which was reported on by Brooks does that very well.

That plan is a 24 team playoff.

This is an expansion of the current 16 team playoff format which already exists. The addition of four teams per conference creates fairness to teams like the New York Rangers who had a chance at the playoffs but are now in a murky area due to the shutdown. There is the matter of whether they will still make it based upon how exactly the NHL chooses the 12 teams.

By narrowing down the field, the NHL also has a group of teams to faciliate their draft lottery. It also prevents teams who are completely out of it from having to go through a lengthy camp to get back in shape only to needlessly play out the string. There is little to no reason to take teams out of the picture and have those players risk injury.

The 24 playoff team format does what the NHL does best – the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Arguably, there are no more intense games in all of pro sports. Somewhat akin to March Madness, the NHL attracts more fans than during a lengthy regular season during this time. In setting up the format this way, the NHL is going to attract more fans.

It is also going to make fans of teams who were in the race happy. Fans of teams like the Rangers will potentially get to see their team in the playoffs instead of being cheated out of a chance by the COVID19 shutdown. As a league, it is very important to keep your fans happy and not have anyone feel cheated.

This plan, if it goes forward, is the best possible plan. It is also a model for what other leagues should pursue. For example, MLB needs to look at getting the most games possible without dramatically altering the rules of their sport. That is something which could be accomplished with a Major League Baseball Classic. Such a plan does what the NHL is doing – heightening rivalries and intensity while finding a way to get the most games within any window provided.

In the end, what we see is Gary Bettman improbably becoming the best commissioner in sports and realizing what is best for his sport, players, and fans. He should be commended for that, and hopefully, we will see his model be followed by other sports.