The Colorado Avalanche, like all NHL teams, will have a lot of hurdles to jump to return to some semblance of normalcy.
The Colorado Avalanche and entire NHL are on about Day 55 of the season pause. Everything about the remainder of the 2019-20 NHL season is still up in the air, including remaining regular season games, the playoffs, and the NHL Draft.
Some people think the NHL should just cancel the rest of the season and start fresh with the 2020-21 season. Well, guess what: There’s plenty about the 2020-21 season that’s up in the air, too.
Right now the entire world is in some state of shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The brightest minds are working on solutions, but we’re seeing the scientific method playing out in real time. There are no guarantees.
October 2020 could come, and we could well be in the same situation we are now. No hockey for the next five months doesn’t mean no more pandemic.
Indeed, ESPN released an article about the San Jose Sharks that highlights the hurdles all teams have to face about resuming play.
They’re certainly interesting from a Colorado Avalanche point of view.
Resumption of 2019-20 Season
A cynical outlook is that teams who have no hope for the playoffs couldn’t care less if this season resumed. As Erik Johnson pointed out in his Sports Social interview, they’re already looking toward next season. However, there are plenty of teams who want to finish out this season.
The Sharks are in the former boat. The Colorado Avalanche are decidedly in the latter. Every player and, I daresay, the majority of fans think they have the team to win the Stanley Cup this season.
So, hurdles the team has to face to resume the season. First off, where will the games be played? The NHL is considering neutral sites. Will the players have to be quarantined away from their families? They’ve come out strongly against that idea, and the NHL is working to accommodate them.
Do you play any regular season games or go straight to the playoffs? The players vehemently want to play some regular season games to get back in shape. With the NHL’s proposal of tournament-style play, three games a day in neutral sites, you could kick out the rest of the season in about a week.
When will the Stanley Cup be awarded? The NHL is looking very seriously at a September award of the Stanley Cup, which would mean October would be “August” — that month of no hockey.
Would this be a real awarding of the Stanley Cup? Yes. The Stanley Cup has been in rotation since the turn of the 19th century. It’s been awarded different ways through the decades. This would be just as valid as any other award.
Delay of 2020-21 Season
Bold prediction: The 2020-21 season is going to be delayed no matter what the NHL decides to do with the remainder of the 2019-20 season. The league and NHLPA are willing to go to extraordinary measures to finish out the 2019-20 season, including neutral sites and playing with no fans.
They’re not willing to go to such lengths to start the next season. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated the season will play out in its entirety, but he has not promised it will start on time if the current season is cancelled.
The NHL wants the 2020-21 season to look as normal as possible with teams playing in their own arenas. There are teams with arenas in hot spots — specifically New York and Florida. Those spots will have to cool down before the NHL can play in those arenas, so the entire NHL has to wait on that event.
I’m not going to lie — that’s what I think about every time I see mass gatherings of protesters with no masks on shouting they want to open up states. They’re delaying the resumption of sports. (Among other things, obviously, but this is a sports blog.)
The hurdles here are two-fold. I’m going to tackle one head-on. A separate reason the NHL wants to play regular season games and go through with the playoffs is broadcasting contracts. Yes, money. It comes down to money. We can gnash our teeth and wail and shake our fists at the skies crying that we should focus on health and safety and humans. But I’m old enough to be cynical enough to state outright: It all comes down to money.
Each team has its own contracts with broadcasters. And if you don’t think those situations are serious, you haven’t been watching the drama unfold with Altitude TV and the local broadcasting stations. Except, as Avs fans, we’ve all been watching that drama, so we how how serious it is.
If the NHL resumes the season and broadcasts the games, even if there are no fans in the buildings, that seems like it will satisfy those contracts. What’s more, they might be able to generate some revenue for the league. Before you decry how unimportant that is, see my above cynical comment.
Arenas and Fans
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And now we get to the crux of the matter. The novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is highly contagious. It’s most easily spread in crowded conditions — like at a sporting event. You can practically vacuum seal teams, but you can’t control fans at the same level.
The ESPN article outlined a lot of scenarios about what opening up the arenas to fans would look like. Spoiler alert: It’s going to go badly for the regular fan. The first idea is that suites can be sold out because they’re relatively contained. I’m guessing they won’t be sold affordably.
Next, what if you have to operate at, say, 10% to 20% capacity? At Pepsi Center, that allows just 1,800 to 3,600 fans. Season ticket holders are going to get first dibs on those tickets.
What’s seating going to look like? Well, that’s something the teams can actually control. Groups that have tickets together can sit together isolated in between with two or three seats all around to maintain that distance.
The problem comes at the concourse and bathrooms. 1,800 to 3,600 people is still outside what’s bound to be the recommended limit for groups. Yet people only have two intermissions to get their business done — or they’ll have to miss part of the game.
The arena is going to have to hire more staff. At club level, you can get in-seat service of food and alcohol. If you only have 3,600 fans, you can hire enough servers for all levels. Concerning bathrooms, you need attendants here, too, to make sure people are waiting in line six feet apart. The arena is build to accommodate 18,000 hockey fans — 3,600 should be able to get their business done with all those bathrooms.
Fans may be given a time to arrive to their seats. If you miss your appointment, you’ll have to wait to get seated, probably once the game has started. You’ll probably have to be released by ushers to leave at the end of the game. Fans will probably have to be temperature checked and wear masks.
Don’t want to go through all that? No problem — there’s bound to be a long waiting list of fans willing to jump through all those hoops to get to watch hockey live again. I’ll be one of them. I have no problem arriving with a mask on (I even already have an Avs mask) at a specific time, having my refreshments brought to me in my little island of isolation, waiting in line to go to the bathroom (as a woman, I always have to anyway), and waiting in my seat to leave at the end of the night.
Because then I’d get to be watching Colorado Avalanche hockey live.
The Colorado Avalanche and NHL has a lot of hurdles to resume play at any time. But the entirety of the league, NHLPA, team ownership, and arena ownership are working on it.