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Options for the 2019-20 NHL Season

by Sylvain Godin | SWP Journal Staff


As I sit here, staring blankly at the screen, realizing what the planet is going through, it's both fascinating and terrifying. The COVID-19 virus has forced countries to start closing their borders, stopping flights and any large gatherings, including most sporting events.


And the NHL did not avoid this.


The shutdown began with Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 in the NBA, which closed down not only the game that was about to play but closed down the entire league for the foreseeable future. That was the start of it all.


As we speak, all four major leagues are currently in stop mode. The NBA was first, followed by the three major sports: The NFL (closing off its facilities for some teams and cancelling potential draft events), the MLB (spring training and the first two weeks of the season) and finally, the NHL. The NHL believes they should be able to reopen at some point but there's no way to know if this will even be possible.


What, exactly, are the options for the NHL season?


Option A: Most optimistic – This resolves itself in few weeks and the season resumes in a month’s time. This is probably the least viable of the solutions. The idea would be, after a “pause” of three weeks or so, the pandemic slows or ends and the league safely resumes its season. This would take immense work to adjust the schedule and determine availability of arenas which are usually booked months in advance for other events.


The biggest reason I don’t see this option happening is that it’s been over two months since the first known issue of COVID-19 has come out and it's done nothing but run rampant throughout the world. At this time, a vaccine is months away and the league will not re-open until the Health Bureaus of their respective countries say that it is fine. To me, this is simply hoping for something that is, sadly, not medically plausible.


Option B: No more regular season games, but still award the cup after a shortened playoffs. I’m going to assume that we’re not going to see hockey for a few months. This means we’re looking at maybe June or July before the crisis passes. At this point, the NHL will need to decide if it’s even worth playing the last few games. At this point, there is separation at the top of the standings from the top 2 teams of each conference. With that in mind, I propose the following: The top eight teams in the league duke it out, shorten each series to a best of 3 or 5, until one is awarded the cup. This would allow the NHL to at least crown a winner.


It's basically the best of both worlds: You crown a champion, you award the teams that did well in the season, and you simply line up the rest for draft picks. This will completely be unfair to the teams fighting for a playoff spot, but we live in unfair times right now with this virus. Exceptional circumstances call for exceptional decisions. This would be one of them.


Option C: The Nuclear option – The NHL nukes all remaining games, including playoffs, awards no cup. This is probably the least liked option by the NHL but one that I think might honestly be the only potential solution to something that does not seem to have an end in sight. As for the draft and how it's conducted, here's a simple solution: Points Percentage. Take the number of points a team has and divide it by the maximum possible points that a team can get in a season. That gives you a points percentage and that number gives you your standings. As of today, with the league shut down, this is what it would look like:

Stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com

Points percentage is probably the fairest way to go. It's not perfect, of course. It's completely unfair to teams that were on a winning streak. It's also unfair to the middle of the group fighting to get into the playoffs. But, we don’t live in normal times right now. So you invert the points percentage fields, from worst to best, and award the draft selection in that fashion.


Cancelling the season is, by far, the most dramatic option. It wipes out the year, and wipes out anything teams tried to do at the trade deadline to get better and still not be in the playoffs (I’m looking at you, New York Islanders). But, to me, this is by far the most likely scenario.


Why option C is most plausible

So why do I think it will happen? Because this situation is likely to continue for more than a month and the logistics of trying to figure out a way to continue the season after the dates in question have passed are a scheduling nightmare.


In short, I believe the NBA and NHL most likely are headed towards cancellation of the rest of the season at this point. No winners will be crowned, and a reset coming later in the year when things settle down. Right now, the only answers for COVID-19 virus are time and prudent behaviour by everyone.


I think we can live without a conclusion to this season if it means saving people’s lives.


So, what happens to the column?

So long as Steve wants me to write, I will keep writing here. With no hockey being played, I can’t promise much, but I can try to keep people informed on the things going on with the Senators to the best of my ability. I can also bring some moments of levity like the guys do on their podcast. So long as there is a world, there’s something to talk about.


For now, stay safe everyone. Remember, in the famous words of Ilya Bryzgalof: “Is only a game. Why you have to be mad!?”


For sure, Ilya. For sure. Is only a game. It will be back when we are stronger.

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