The NHL, which paused its season March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, wants to play out the remaining games for the regular season starting in July at League arenas, Panthers president and CEO Matthew Caldwell said on a conference call with media Wednesday.
Caldwell’s remarks backup a report by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet on Tuesday. Friedman wrote that the idea is to have one city from each NHL division host multiple games a day. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association would have to agree to any format to restart the season.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Manchester, New Hampshire, all contacted the league as potential host cities, but the plan for non-NHL arenas to host games never gained traction due to a lack of accommodations and difficulty televising games.
According to Friedman and Emily Kaplan of ESPN, three of the four host cities are known with the Atlantic Division yet to be determined. The Coyotes have also expressed interesting in hosting at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, according to Craig Morgan of The Athletic.
Central: Saint Paul, Minnesota (Xcel Energy Center)
Metropolitan: Raleigh, North Carolina (PNC Arena)
Pacific: Edmonton, Alberta (Rogers Place)
Tampa and Sunrise, Florida, could be options for an Atlantic Division host city given Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order from earlier this month. The order enables events for “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience — including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production — only if the location is closed to the general public.” The UFC plans to move its UFC 249 pay-per-view for May 9 to Florida.
“The players right now are all quarantined,” said Caldwell on a Re-Open Florida Task Force conference call, as first reported by Fox Sports 640. “I know for the NHL, our players are quarantined through the end of April, and that will probably be extended into May. But when we are able to come out of the quarantine period, players are going to need time to work out. I think all leagues are thinking about some training camp that we would do before the start of the season.
“So that’s going to take us into the June timeframe. At least with the NHL, we’re trying to target some time in July. When we feel that players are safe, and we have enough testing and we have enough ways to get back on the ice for us, it’s probably going to be contained at playing at four or five neutral sites. So that’s all being discussed right now. My guess is that we would start with limited fans or empty arenas. So just with the teams and the associated staffs.”
The Blackhawks have 12 games remaining, but only three of them are against Central Division opponents. Chicago trails the Predators and Canucks by six points for the second Western Conference wild card.
If the plan does go through, the NHL would have to allow players an abbreviated training camp before July to get back into game shape. Restrictions on travel, mass gatherings and essential businesses would need to be cut back in order for the season to restart along with additional health and safety measures for players and team staff.