The NHL my have an ulterior motive for finishing this New York Rangers season
As the NHL lurches towards the most unusual postseason in its history, the question is why are they doing it? Every other hockey league in the world has cancelled the rest of their regular seasons and playoffs and are gearing up for starting as close to normally as possible in the fall. Meanwhile, the NHL is jumping through hoops to get the season re-started. While the New York Rangers have been gifted with their first postseason in three years, there are reasons to cancel.
Blue Line Station’s Curtis Jetter made a compelling argument for cancelling the rest of the season and focusing on the next season. You may not like it, but there are good reasons. However, there is one reason that the NHL may be in favor of altering their schedule.
There has been speculation that the Gary Bettman and the NHL may look to permanently move the start of the hockey season to January with the playoffs running through the summer. There are reasons this make sense. Look what hockey is up against. The NHL season begins at the height of interest in baseball (the playoffs and World Series). The first three months of the season have to compete with NFL football. The Stanley Cup Playoffs have to compete with the NBA playoffs.
– Let’s note that I am talking about the four “major” sports, no intent to offend soccer or WNBA fans.
The new season
The season could kick off with a January 1 Winter Classic. The regular season would run from January through June with the playoffs in July and August. Those are the dog days of the MLB season so the Stanley Cup Playoffs would virtually be the only game in town. The All-Star festivities would be in late March, during baseball spring training, long after the NBA All-Star game and the Superbowl.
What better way for the NHL to jump start this than by extending the 2019-20 season so that they have to start the 2020-21 season in January? If they see a boost in television ratings and more media coverage, they could make this schedule permanent. If the league is really thinking about this, it’s not a bad strategy.
Why it’s a bad idea
If the NHL was the only hockey league in the world, this is a great idea. However, the NHL would be out of sync with every other hockey organization. While they could get the AHL to adopt the new schedule, they have no sway over the others.
Every other hockey league starts in the fall and ends in the spring or early summer. In the pros, that includes the AHL, ECHL, KHL, SHL and Liiga. For North American prospects that’s the NCAA and CHL. A late start would wreak havoc on roster planning and cause major contractual issues. Every other league would have to take a hard look at the new NHL schedule and find reasons to try to conform.
If they didn’t, a collegiate prospect or Canadian Juniors player would finish his season and then be able to join their NHL organization for an additional two and a half months of play. Teenagers would be playing seasons of 80 or 90 games, split between their amateur leagues and the pros. It would change the structure of Entry Level Contracts (ELC) as prospects would be able to burn off a year of eligibility earlier.
Look at K’Andre Miller. In this structure, this season he would have turned pro after his college season ended in March, would have played for Hartford until the AHL playoffs ended and then could have made his debut in New York. That’s a lot of games for a 19-year old.
European players would have to decide whether to play the traditional season overseas instead of waiting for the NHL season to start. For a prospect like Nils Lundkvist, he would be faced with the choice of playing in the SHL beginning in September and possibly join the Rangers when the Swedish season ended in March. While that means he could end up playing three months in the NHL it would also mean he playing a full 52 game season in Sweden, followed by a 40 game NHL season and possible playoffs. His other option would be to sign his ELC and play in Hartford for three months until the NHL season starts. Either way, he could possibly play as many as 100 games. The NHL Players Association (NHLPA) would be opposed to that and the NHL would have to figure this out.
Why this season matters
That brings us back to the 2019-20 season. Under the current structure, with the qualifying round due to begin on July 30, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in mid-October. If so, a late December or early January start for the 2020-21 season is inevitable. The league has no intention to play fewer than 82 games next season so, even with a compacted schedule, the season won’t finish until late summer and that means a late start to the 2021-22 season….and so on.
While an NHL season starting in January makes some business sense, it would be contrary to the timing of hockey in general. Fans see the onset of fall as a cue for hockey to start. Players are accustomed to being off in the summer. There are already reports that many players are opposed to continuing the current season due to COVID-19 health risks along with the reality of living in a pandemic free “bubble” for weeks away from their families.
Whatever the league decided to do, it will have to have the blessing the of NHLPA and that is not a given. Players are pushing for a total membership vote on the resumption of the season as opposed to just the team reps.
Is this just a conspiracy theory or a real possiblity? It will be worth watching as whatever is decided about this season could have long term ramifications on the game that we all love.
What do think about permanently starting the hockey season in January? Feel free to weigh in below.