In the first stride toward resuming a hockey season that has been frozen since March 12 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL Players Association voted Friday to proceed with negotiations on a return plan with a 24-team format to conclude the 2019-20 season.
That’s the good news for those hoping to see the Stanley Cup raised at some point, even if it’s in September inside an empty arena.
What is less assuring is the conclusion of the NHLPA’s statement about its approval for the 24-team format, which reads: “Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”
The devil, as the popular saying goes, is in the details. In this case, there are quite a few details to be resolved.
Deciding on the structure of play was a nice hurdle to clear with the players, for sure, but it was only the first in a long line of them. The 24-team format also needs a green light from the NHL’s board of governors, which isn’t expected to be an issue, but the water could soon get murkier.
Despite all 50 U.S. states in various stages of “reopening” their economies, the coronavirus is still present and spreading throughout North America. That is not a small factor to players, who have all kinds of questions about the procedures and protocols of returning.
How often will they be tested? What happens if they get the virus? What happens if more than one gets it or half a team becomes ill?
In terms of the playoff, will there be hub cities where games are played? How many? And will teams based in those NHL markets be allowed to play there? How will quarantining players work?