NHL considering August return without fans: report
Flights returning players to U.S. may be challenged without clearance from medical experts
Uncertainty remains a major hurdle, but the NHL is plotting a late summer return with playoff games in empty venues to counteract the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
A board of governors call to dissect options for resuming the season is scheduled for Monday.
There are several issues with the NHL resuming the season. There are more than three weeks of regular-season games remaining on the schedule and players were allowed to return to their home markets, including international locations from which return flights to the United States could be severely challenging without clearance from medical experts.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and other NHL officials participated in a conference call with U.S. President Donald Trump over the weekend, where optimism about clearance for sports to resume in August was detailed. But NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league would defer to medical professionals when determining where and when it's safe to resume hockey.
WATCH | Trump says he wants fans back 'sooner than later':
The NHL asked teams to provide arena availability into the summer months when the regular season was paused.
ESPN reported on Monday that the NHL's primary return-to-play plan focuses on some models "that involve games being played in arenas without fans."
ESPN NHL reporter Greg Wyshynski said Monday that the league is considering "regional" playoff sites rather than the option of holding the playoffs in a single city or facility. He reported games would be staggered throughout the day from afternoon to late night, similar to the Olympics hockey schedule.
That approach has been mentioned in connection with the NBA returning for the playoffs, with locations such as the Bahamas and Las Vegas reportedly on the table.
WATCH | If the NHL returns, what could the playoffs look like?
Over the weekend, the governors and New York and Florida both tamped down President Donald Trump's hope of sports resuming in August. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: "I would love to see sports back to help with cabin fever. But this is not about hopes and dreams and aspirations and what you would like to see."
The NHL, which postponed play March 12, has several times pushed back its self-quarantine guideline — it's now April 15 — before players can even think about reporting to team facilities. The date is expected to be extended again.
Wherever and whenever the Stanely Cup is awarded, one thing will still hold true as far as Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford is concerned.
"Whoever wins it, it is going to feel the same whenever they win it, on whatever day they win it, as it would winning it normally in the middle of June," Rutherford said.
The latest the Cup has ever been awarded is June 24, in 1995 and 2013, with both instances following lockout-shortened seasons. The pandemic, however, has no timetable.
That leads to questions over whether the NHL will have time to squeeze in any of the remaining 189 regular-season games to determine seedings, or skip directly to the playoffs based on the current standings, be it by based on total points or points percentages.
In the percentage scenario, the ninth-place New York Islanders would have the edge over the eighth-place Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference. In the West, seventh-place Winnipeg would be the odd team out with Vancouver in.
Other possibilities include expanding the playoff format to take into account the uneven amount of games teams have played.
With files from The Associated Press