With speculation swirling that the NHL is finalizing a format for the resumption of the 2019-20 season, Monumental Sports and Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis added his voice to the growing sense of optimism around the league. Leonsis appeared on CNN's "The Situations Room" on Sunday to discuss the potential return of all three of Monumental Sports' professional teams -- the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics -- and was confident that we will see all three play at some point again in 2020.
"I believe all three teams will play," Leonsis said. "We will let the NBA and NHL try to finish some or all of the regular season then go in the playoffs, we just won't be doing it with fans."
It was essentially a foregone conclusion at this point that if the 2019-20 season were to resume, it would be without fans so Leonsis' statement here is no surprise. Of more significance is the fact the NHL may still try to have regular-season games. Just what that may look like raises several questions.
It is certainly understandable why the players of playoff teams would want games before heading into the playoffs. It will give them a chance to get back into game shape and into a rhythm. While the coronavirus has caused several professional leagues to shutdown, the impact is perhaps more significant for hockey as players are not able to get onto the ice and skate. That is something that is very hard to replicate away from the ice. While every player is in the same boat in terms of a lack of ice time, the trepidation a player would feel from going from no hockey to playoff hockey is certainly understandable.
Playing out the remainder of the regular season would also allow for the NHL to determine final regular-season standings to put towards the draft lottery, one of the complications the league faced when it suggested an early June draft.
But what's the benefit for teams outside of the playoffs to play out the season?
While the NHL appears set to expand the playoff field this season to include teams whose playoff hunt was cut short by the pandemic, there seems little incentive for teams outside of the playoffs to return to play meaningless games.
The Detroit Red Wings were so awful this season that they were already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before the league paused its season. Is it realistic to expect those players to return from their homes after a two-month pause, go through a training camp, be isolated in a centralized location away from their families just to play completely and utterly meaningless games? Who does that benefit? The teams aren't getting any gate money since the games would be played without fans and at neutral locations and there is zero incentive for the players. Sure, every year teams who are not going to make the playoffs are expected to finish out the remainder of their 82-game schedule, but not in the middle of a pandemic, not isolated away from their families and not after a pause in the season of several months.
So what exactly will a regular-season look like? Could it be limited to just the teams that make the cut for the playoffs according to whatever format the league chooses? Could they bring back more teams than the playoff format allows and have a playoff race? Will the league for the cellar-dwellers to play anyway in the name of draft lottery seedings?
As with everything with this coronavirus, every step the NHL takes towards clarity brings with it more questions. Hopefully soon we finally have some answers.
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