Columnists, Hockey, Ice Hockey, Sports

Off the Post: The NHL needs to start making decisions

The National Basketball Association concluded its 2020 season on Oct. 11 when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat in the Finals. The 2020-21 preseason will start on Dec. 11 and go through Dec. 19, while the regular season will officially start up on Dec. 22. 

There will also be a play-in tournament with the seventh through 10th seeds to determine the last two playoff spots for each conference. The NBA now has a tentative plan to complete its season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the National Hockey League wrapped up its season on Sept. 28 when the Tampa Bay Lightning knocked out the Dallas Stars in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup. Since then, the league has put out some interesting ideas for how to tackle the 2020-21 campaign. 

It has tinkered with the idea of having certain cities designated as NHL hubs and to have teams compete there for a certain period of time. The league has discussed the concept of having some arenas host fans. Commissioner Gary Bettman has also shared his desire to return to the league’s usual regular season schedule starting in the fall. 

These are very intriguing and important matters the NHL has talked about. Unfortunately, talking is all that has been done up to this point. 

Bettman, the owners and the players association have to start making decisions. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, the league does not even have a set date for the season opener. 

The NBA is attracting a good deal of attention with offseason drama, trades and the draft. The National Football League season is in full force. All of this is happening while the NHL sits in the corner with only the occasional update spurting across the ESPN bottom ticker.

The NHL was riding high after finishing the season with zero positive COVID-19 tests. That is something the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball cannot claim. But since then, the NHL has had problems finding concrete answers to its problems. 

Players are very much against a yearlong bubble, which is understandable. The teams that were in Toronto or Edmonton for multiple rounds of games went through a real emotional drain. The players will not agree to a deal that involves them not being able to see their families for months at a time during the regular season. 

That is the most important problem the league is grappling with, but there are certainly many more factors it will have to address. The list of moving parts for the NHL is boundless: ticket revenue, number of games, where to play and how to incorporate the Canadian teams are just a few.

However, while the league is juggling numerous aspects, that is still not an excuse for having practically no clarity on what next season will look like. The NBA might not have quite as many questions to answer, but it was still able to figure out a plan before the NHL, despite having its season end two weeks later. 

Hockey fans have been in the dark practically all offseason. They deserve an update on what the league’s season will look like. 

Of course, the plan will not be perfect. There will almost certainly need to be some adjustments made along the way. But it is getting to the point where the NHL needs to start making decisions. 

By Thanksgiving, the league should, at the very least, have a season start date and an outline on how the regular season will be handled. Not every aspect of its plan needs to be revealed, but that is a reasonable date to have some information available to the public. 

The league cannot afford to wait much longer. The NHL has a deserved reputation for consistently failing to compete with the other three leagues for headlines. That is a huge reason why hockey does not succeed in particular markets. 

Taking this long to release its plan is, unfortunately, the most recent example of that problem. The NHL needs to give a 2020-21 season update soon, or they will only continue to fall behind in America’s sports consciousness.  

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