The NHL could start this season using one schedule model and transition to another, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on the NHL @TheRink podcast Friday.
Daly said the NHL and NHL Players' Association are considering a schedule model with all teams hosting games in their home arenas and another that requires all teams to play in hub cities that would be determined based on where there are the fewest COVID-19 cases.
"We have to build in flexibility for the hiccups that we expect will come along and have to expect will come along with potential COVID positives and contact tracing requirements," Daly said. "Some of the difficulties that [Major League] Baseball went through and some of the difficulties that the NFL is currently dealing with, how do we address those situations in the context of our own schedule? Those are all the things we're working on and those are all the things that keep us all up at night as we try to figure this out."
Daly said the NHL remains intent on starting next season as early as Jan. 1, preceded by two-week mandatory training camps, including an extra week for the seven teams that were not part of the NHL Return to Play plan last season. He said there has been discussion about allowing teams to hold optional conditioning camps prior to the mandatory training camps.
Daly said some NHL teams would prefer to host games in their home arena with or without fans in attendance at some point this season rather than playing in hub cities. But he said it's unclear if that will be possible for all teams because of government restrictions resulting from the spike in COVID-19 cases across North America.
"If possible to do so, I think our clubs would much prefer to play in their home buildings even if that means not before fans," Daly said. "Having said that, in some markets, if we dropped the puck tomorrow night, I'm not sure all markets could accommodate a game just by local regulation and health restrictions. That changes on a daily basis; the restrictions that come into effect, the restrictions that go out of effect. That presents its own challenge on just staying on top of what all the conditions are."
Daly said a schedule model with multiple hub cities would allow for a safer and more controlled environment. He said the security and safety couldn't be as extreme as it was in Edmonton and Toronto for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, but hub cities would allow for limited interactions with the outside world when teams are in market.
"You'd obviously want to put those hub cities in places that are experiencing positive experiences on the COVID side," Daly said. "You'd set up some dedicated space and restaurants for the players without the secure perimeters that we had in the bubble cities. That would be the benefit of hub cities. You would be in a situation where teams would travel in, play a bunch of games over a two-week time period and then be able to go home and spend time with their families and their own local practices facilities for a week, and cycle through a season that way."
Daly said the NHL and NHLPA remain in constant dialogue about how many games each team will play and what the divisional alignments will look like, and acknowledged some time constraints.
"Look, we know there is some urgency here, there is some urgency for making decisions, and while we want to drop the puck on Jan. 1 we also recognize that we're not going to rush into a bad decision just to make it," Daly said. "Whether that Jan. 1 can be a little later, we certainly have flexibility to move it later. We are in regular communication with the clubs. I think the players and the clubs have a fairly good understanding of what a Jan. 1 opening would require.
"Realistically, if we're going to start in the first part of January, mandatory training camps are going to have to start in the middle part of December. In some of our markets there continue to be quarantine requirements associated with players coming into town, so you factor those in and you back it up from there. I would ultimately concur with the conclusion that time is getting short."
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