The National Hockey League is among the many major sports leagues that shut down in early March for the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have to be sure to complete the 2019-2020 season. Since the shut down, the league has come out and announced that the season is suspended, not canceled. A number of fans are beginning to grow aggravated, and believe that the NHL should just cancel the remainder of the season and start anew for the 2020-2021 season. However, this fan believes the NHL needs to finish their 2019-2020 season as soon as it is safe to play again, with or without fans.
This is a golden opportunity for the NHL to take advantage of being one of the first major sports to grab new viewers, which would increase the interest in the sport, coupled with the traditional increase in viewership enjoyed during a normal playoff season. There were a total of 1.076 million viewers during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final’s last game, whereas a traditional regular season game averages about 313,000 viewers. The NHL does not have to be the first sport to restart its season, however, restarting the season will positively increase views and in doing so, allow for the NHL to expand its broadcasting options in a way that it hasn’t been able to do so before.
Another factor to consider is this most recent trade deadline. Each trade deadline is typically used to bolster a team for a potential playoff push. For the Washington Capitals, this included the addition of defenseman Brenden Dillon and forward Ilya Kovalchuk. For Kovalchuk, his addition to the team was as a “rental player” and is only under contract for the remainder of the season. This puts the Caps, as well as other organizations, in a complicated situation. General Managers must figure out if they should keep their ‘rental players’ despite the original plan falling through, or if those players will enter free agency with a small sample size with their new clubs.
Other players’ contracts could also be at a serious loss in the event the NHL cannot finish the season. For example, Capitals starting netminder Braden Holtby’s contract ends at the conclusion of this season, at which point he will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. While there is no news of him talking with other teams at this point, the end of the 2019-20 season could potentially end the Braden Holtby era in Washington. It has to be harder for players who were considering retirement at the end of this season. Former Capitals forward Joel Ward announced his retirement at the end of April, and it’s likely a few more veterans will retire at the end of the season as well. This may bring some disappointment for these players, as a premature end to what they suspected would be their final season is less than ideal.
The final reason the NHL should look to safely continue the season if the chance presents itself revolves around profits. The profit margins within each organization vary and could collapse with the end of a season. According to “The Hockey Guy” video about the salary cap, teams including Florida, Arizona, Columbus and Winnipeg are already operating at a loss ranging from $11-21 million, which includes general ticket sales, which account for 36.6% of a team’s profit.
If the NHL were to hold a full 2020-21 season entirely without fans, that would mean that those four teams would lose anywhere from $4.026-$7.7 million. For teams already struggling to fill their stadium, this could mean the end of the financial road for a franchise, which the video goes on to explain. There are many teams, such as the Capitals, that should be able to handle the damage, but this isn’t true for all 31 teams.
In addition, a loss of this level could also impact the start of the Seattle expansion team. The Seattle Center Arena is currently in the process of a $930 million construction process which is still set to open in June 2021. While the NHL approved of the expansion plans back in December 2018, the salary cap problem faced by other teams will be just as problematic for this new expansion team.
The NHL is in a very complicated situation with resuming its season. To get back to work, initial steps include getting international players back into the US to quarantine, setting up a small training camp to allow for players to readjust and getting arenas available to host games, this is a lot to consider. It makes sense to find a way to continue the season to allow for the smoothest transition back into the regular season, timeline for the draft, and the 2020-21 season, even if it means pushing the 2020-21 season start and/or shortening the season. This is the best option for the players, owners, fans, and it ensures Lord Stanley’s Cup has a new champion to add.
By Madison Hricik