The NHL is already heading into the 2020-21 season with plenty of hurdles to overcome. From inconsistent case counts across various North American cities to travel logistics and revenue streams, the league has been struggling to make this year a reality in the face of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.
Now, thanks to some alarming case numbers finally making their way to Canada, they’ve got yet another obstacle to overcome.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday that the Canadian Public Health Agency had released a statement, insisting that the NHL will only be able to play in Canadian cities if they adhere to provincial covid guidelines currently in place for sporting events.
Statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada: pic.twitter.com/IsQOO0m8Pd— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 17, 2020
This obviously throws a bit of a wrench into plans for the six Canadian clubs, who play in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Each province is currently facing different and unique covid-related obstacles, which means that they each have unique parameters in place regarding the feasibility of sports right now — and very likely could deny the NHL the approval to get the season under way.
The proposed solution? Move the Canadian teams south — of the border.
As pointed out by TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, that would all but axe the possibility of the all-Canadian division. It wouldn’t necessarily mean that the divisions would stay as they are, though; with limited options for where to relocate six professional hockey franchises on short notice, it could mean division realignment to accommodate teams needing to play in starkly different geographic locations.
That wasn’t the only season-related news that came out on Thursday, either.
In league-wide news, it was all but confirmed that the NHL will be exploring ad-related revenue to ensure the financial feasibility of the upcoming season. The proposed ad placement? Helmets.
#BREAKING: Sources say the #NHL Board of Governors could approve helmet ads for the '20-21 season as early as today, adding that it is "likely" the measure is approved in today's BOG call (@markjburns88).— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) December 17, 2020
Free to read: https://t.co/xEReDCWZe3 pic.twitter.com/seLHduPKpm
Is it what anyone wants to see? No, probably not. Does that matter if it means fans will get a season? No, probably not.
The league also got word that two different players won’t be taking the ice next season, as well.
In the Central Division, Alexander Steen — who played 15 years between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues — will be retiring due to a back injury.
Steen racked up an impressive career in the NHL, posting 622 points in 1,018 games and taking home a Stanley Cup in 2019 to go with an Olympic silver medal. Now, the tenured veteran’s absence will leave the Blues with some cap space to use — but some leadership shoes to fill, as well.
In the Atlantic, free agent forward Anthony Duclair finally found a home for the upcoming season — with the Florida Panthers, and on a pretty cheap deal:
one year, $1.7 million, Duclair a good fit in Florida https://t.co/RA3htBnUGG— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 17, 2020
At just 1.7 million for the season, Duclair took a significant pay cut with the deal he signed. It’s tough to tell just how much he could have commanded elsewhere, given that teams are strapped for cash — but after a monster of a season for the Ottawa Senators, a repeat performance should earn the winger a substantial pay raise next year should he ask for it.
Finally, in the Metro, the king of the crease for the last 15 years won’t be playing this season:
Some tough news I need to share with you all.. pic.twitter.com/y7ZtAoo39Q— Henrik Lundqvist (@hlundqvist35) December 17, 2020
Henrik Lundqvist is largely considered to be a potential first ballot Hall of Famer when he’s ready to officially hang up his skates. Many believed he still had a few years left in him, though, which makes the news that he’ll sit out this season while undergoing treatment for a heart condition as heartbreaking as it is shocking.
The news means that the Capitals, who had signed him on to tandem with rising star Ilya Samsonov, need a new goalie for next season. But thinking about that is a bit tough when also considering how heartbroken Lundqvist himself sounded when he shared the news via video as well: