Grand Forks, North Dakota got the ball rolling and now there may no stopping the movement. Of every possible way for the NHL to continue its season, the idea with the most traction appears to be neutral site locations where teams could play multiple games free of fans and the accompanying risks of the Coronavirus. North Dakota was the first location mentioned, followed by Manchester, New Hampshire, but now Deputy Commisioner Bill Daly tells ESPN that cities from around North America have contacted the league to pitch themselves as a potential host. Daly specifically names Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in addition to Grand Forks and Manchester, but the list keeps growing:
We do have people putting together the comprehensive laundry list of what we would need from facilities and evaluating some facilities on some level. But I can’t tell you we’ve even finished creating a list [of potential sites], much less narrowed it down.
The NHL’s goal if at all possible is to complete the regular season and host a complete postseason in some form or fashion. The league has also stated that they will not shorten the 2020-21 season to accommodate the completion of the 2019-20 season, but that a condensed campaign could be a possibility should play resume and extend deep into the summer. These are just some of a number of questions still facing the league, as Daly notes:
It’s kind of a combination of things, like when we can start a regular season [in 2020-21] and how much time we need for an off-season, and then what does the playoff format look like… I would say that a best-of-one is not something we would ever go to. I’ve always had the caveat that everything is on the table and nothing is out of the question. I would say there would be a strong opposition to ever creating a playoff where it was a single elimination. I think best-of-three is more possible, not preferred, but more possible.
Before the NHL gets around to a playoff though, they seem determined to complete the regular season. With 25 of the league’s 31 markets currently unable to even open team facilities nevertheless host games, the neutral location concept seems to be the most realistic route at this point, though Daly makes it clear that there is still plenty of work to be done on the idea. Yet, at this point fans will cling to just about any hope they can of a return for hockey and a neutral site continuation of the regular season followed by some form of postseason would be very well received by all.