The NHL, still clinging to its hopes of finishing the season — and still clinging to fans’ ticket money as long as it classifies games as postponed instead of canceled — has prolonged its self-quarantine recommendation through April 30. That means hockey won’t return before mid-May if at all, perilously near the point when it would be wise to lock up the Zamboni until next season.
Maybe that time already has arrived. But there’s one reasonable option left before the ice is melted: Ditch the rest of the regular season.
Cancel the remaining games, about 15% of the schedule, so ticket-holding fans can get their money back to buy necessities. Cancel those games so teams that were eliminated don’t have to go through a farce of a training camp to play a dozen games just so Commissioner Gary Bettman can say the season was complete.
Forget the idea of a play-in tournament for teams that weren’t in playoff spots because it would devalue regular-season games that were played. Go right to the Stanley Cup playoffs if you must go at all, with qualifiers based on point percentage because teams had played a varying number of games when Bettman halted play March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest extension of the league’s stay-at-home recommendation, announced Tuesday, was the third delay. In a one-paragraph statement, the league said that after consulting with medical experts and representatives of the NHL Players’ Assn., it had “made the decision to extend the self-quarantine recommendation for NHL players, coaches and hockey staff through and including Thursday, April 30. The self-quarantine had been in place through April 15.”
The decision wasn’t a surprise, and it wasn’t definitive. It couldn’t be. There are still too many unknowns to set firm target dates for even a gradual return to something resembling normalcy.