As states continue to relax quarantine rules in an effort to open up again, the NHL became the first of the four major sports to step forward with a comprehensive plan to get back on the ice.  The Return to Play Plan was agreed upon in principle last week as the NHL decided on a four phase plan that would include self-isolation, training at local facilities, a training camp, and a 24 team playoff held at two hubs yet to be announced.

According to the NHL timeline, players have already been isolating, and some facilities across the country have been opening with specific safety guidelines.  The NHL’s third step is a three-week camp in which teams would be able to train and prepare for games in mid-July.  With the regular season now officially cancelled, phase four would mean a return to hockey with an adjusted playoff format.

For all people, professional athletes or not, the importance of health and safety are the priority and a proposed timeline shouldn’t determine anything.  As is often said, COVID-19 creates the timeline, we don’t.

But if it is safe to start up again, the NHL may want to take this as an opportunity to literally be the only game in town.  Seven reasons why going first could be important to the sport of hockey.

  • Major League Baseball is currently stuck in a money dispute as the Player’s Association argues with ownership over revenue splits, and Spring Training looks to be starting in late July at best. The NBA is looking to rent out Disney World in Orlando and head to the playoffs targeting July 31.  The NFL is still set for September 10th opening, and college football isn’t due to begin until August 29th at the earliest.  If the NHL could start their playoffs in mid or early July, they would literally be the only game in town.
  • The Match – Champions for Charity showed us that 5.8 million are willing to watch amateurs hit golf balls into the trees. The ESPN documentary The Last Dance had an average viewing audience of 5.6 million per episode, and most of those were born after Space Jam was even released.  And the NFL Draft’s 8.4 million viewers broke the previous record of 6.2 million viewers from 2019.  What do they all have in common?  They were the only original sports programming on television during quarantine!  Playoff hockey would dominate the ratings.
  • After the tragic events of 9/11, Major League Baseball was front and center with Mike Piazza’s homerun, President George Bush throwing out a first pitch, and fans littered in NYFD caps. After the Boston Marathon bombings, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz announced to the fans at Fenway Park, “This is our … city.  And nobody is going to dictate our freedom.”  And after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints became everyone’s team to cheer for returning to the Superdome against Atlanta.  The NHL must have a toothless hero just waiting to be the face of recovery.
  • Legalized gambling has opened up all over the country and DraftKings, Vegas, and the NHL could again dominate the action as the first to return. Betting on how many commercials Peyton Manning would be in during his charity golf match was fun, but the amount of money bet on the NHL playoffs would be the real hole-in-one.  How fitting for an NHL commissioner named Bettman.
  • The promotions department could have a field day with COVID-19 relief efforts, blood drives, and jerseys honoring heroes and recognizing those we’ve lost. Partnerships could be made to advertise local eateries, foundations, and more.  Even COVID-19 masks with your favorite team logo would take off.  All while the other major sports continue to stay home on their collective couches.
  • In the United States, the NBA has consistently done the best job of turning their product into a universal demand. But recent issues between the US and China have dampened that a little.  With the NHL representing sixteen countries including Canada, Sweden, Russia, and Germany, the opportunity to make a global response to a global pandemic, while expanding the market is right in front of them.
  • The 2019 NHL Playoffs were the most watched in the last 23 years. Now imagine a scenario in which NBC airs games in primetime, stars are promoted, and famous recording artists promote their work during intermissions.  Imagine no competition from the other sports, the other networks, and millions glued to the television while waiting for their Grubhub to show up.  That’s must-see-tv!

Hockey – this could be your time.  But keep in mind that any delay and baseball, America’s pastime, may steal your thunder.  Or even worse, Adam Silver, Lebron James, and the NBA beat you to it, leaving you with no glass slipper, and no magic kingdom.  Just Gary Bettman and a six-pack of LaBatt Blue.


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Alan Tapley is an educator, author, and blogger who has lived just outside of Boulder for the last twenty years.  His published work includes two novels, two children’s books, a series of cartoons in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and multiple sports related articles. His love for family and the state of Colorado is only matched by one thing, his passion for sports.  The first baseball game he ever attended was at Wrigley Field, before there were lights.  At the final Bronco game at the old Mile High, he allegedly cut out a piece of his seat in the South stands.  But regardless of being here for the Avalanche’s last Stanley Cup, the Rockies only World Series appearance, and all the Broncos’ Super Bowl Victories, his wife never fails to remind him that he wasn’t at the University of Colorado in 1990, like she was.  The year the Buffs football team won the National Championship.