Much remains unclear, but Kings President Luc Robitaille said the NHL remains optimistic of resuming its season this summer, even if it means skipping directly to the playoffs upon a restart.
“There’s still no exact plan, except that everyone realizes we should play this summer, we all want to play this summer,” Robitaille said during a video conference call with season-ticket holders Thursday. “Will it be just a playoff set-up or maybe finishing the regular season? We’re still not sure. It seems like sometimes it’s leaning toward more of a playoff format.”
If that were the case, the Kings, who are second-to-last in the Western Conference and likely wouldn’t even be included in an expanded playoff field, would see their season end without another game.
"We would want to finish the season,” Robitaille said of the Kings, who won their final seven games before the season was suspended amid the coronavirus crisis on March 12. “Especially the fact that we have a lot of young players, it's always a good experience for them to play."
But, he acknowledged, "We're really not sure of where the league will end up settling."
During this two-month break, the NHL has considered a litany of options for finishing its season, which still includes about three week’s worth of regular-season games and the entirety of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The restart plan that has reportedly received the most traction is a “hub” model where teams would be grouped together at various NHL markets across the U.S. and Canada and play de facto neutral site games against one another.
Whether or not any such plan would include the completion, shortening, or outright cancellation of the rest of the regular season remains undecided, with the direction of various proposals seemingly changing “almost by the hour,” Robitaille said.
“As an organization right now, we’re still kind of on hold, which is kind of annoying all of us,” Robitaille continued. “We hear something, we’re part of some meetings with the league, there’s talks about maybe going a certain direction, and then the next meeting will go in a different direction. So we’re still waiting.”
Despite the uncertainty, Robitaille emphasized his trust in the league office and Commissioner Gary Bettman, citing Bettman’s message that the NHL isn’t trying to return to play faster than other suspended sports.
“He wants to make sure we protect the players, the people that work around [the teams],” Robitaille said of Bettman, who claimed this week not to be “even contemplating” a scenario in which the season ends without the Stanley Cup being awarded.
Added Robitaille: “We want to make sure it’s done right.”
Robitaille also reiterated confidence of playing a full 82-game schedule in 2020-21, even if the start of the season is pushed back as far as December, and said there remains “full intention” for the Kings to play all of their 2020-21 home games at Staples Center.
“There’s been no discussion, in particular around playing the '20-21 season, about playing in another market,” said Kelly Cheeseman, Kings and AEG Sports chief operating officer. “We would plan to play completely in Los Angeles next year.”
Expected renovations to Staples Center, however, have been put on pause for “probably at least a year,” Cheeseman said. Plans to update the 20-year-old building were supposed to be unveiled in late 2019, according to an announcement Cheeseman made last August. Yet nothing official had been released before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the building to close in March.
“Unfortunately, because of the timelines being completely uncertain and the accessibility to workers and based on the phases we’re at, all that had to get put on pause for now,” Cheeseman said. “You need a number of months to complete these renovations and you can already see the rollover effect. If seasons aren’t starting until December of next year, the offseasons [in the summer of 2021] are even shorter and more compressed. So we’re going to have to wait it out before we’re able to relaunch it.”
Also participating in the call Thursday was Kings coach Todd McLellan, who was asked how the team is handling the “unfinished business” of this indefinite break.
“We’ve put closure on the season, but we haven’t closed the season,” the first-year coach said.
For example, McLellan and his staff have completed customary offseason player evaluations and video review, but have yet to hold individual exit meetings with their roster, just in case some or all of the team’s 12 remaining games are played.
“Normally when the season ends, we would sit down, [general manager] Rob Blake and I, and we would review this stuff with the individual player,” McLellan said. “We would talk about the season. We would talk about expectations going forward. How we were going to help them so they could come back as a better individual player. And then we would send them on their way.”
But now, McLellan said, “There’s danger in doing that. If we did completely close it off and have that year-end meeting and then call the players back, I’m not sure that we would have their attention anymore.”