The NHL Deputy Commissioner took the lead on NHL protocols for the season, all 12 documents and 213 pages, all necessary because of restrictions needed to combat COVID-19 and have a regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The NHL is scheduled to play a 56-game regular season and four rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with teams playing in their home arenas. Last season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and when it resumed Aug. 1 with the postseason, all games were played in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
“What struck me is that the challenge with the return to play for the 20-21 season was far different than the challenge for the return of the 19-20 season on a host of levels,” Daly said during a virtual press conference with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday.
Following the press conference, Daly spoke to NHL.com about various aspects of the season, which begins with five games Wednesday. Among the topics were the division realignment and the creation of the taxi squads.
The NHL realigned the League for this season into four new divisions, including the Scotia North Division, which that features all seven teams based in Canada, and went with an all-intradivision schedule to allow for less travel and less exposure to new venues and cities.
The NHL also created taxi squads consisting of between 4-6 players per team, including a minimum of one goalie, that will practice and travel and be available in case a team needs to recall a player on short notice. All taxi squad players are subject to waiver rules, if eligible.
Here is the transcript of the Q&A with the Deputy Commissioner, touching on realignment, taxi squads and much more:
The new division setup, what do you think about it? And if it’s successful could it stick for next season too?
“I think the new setup, there’s a lot of things to look forward to about the new setup. The intradivision play exclusively certainly creates a heightened degree of familiarity between the teams. Each game carries that much importance. I’ve read somewhere people are saying every game is a four-point game and that’s true. I think that can be really compelling. I think the playoff format can be compelling. I think highlighting rivalries can be compelling. But having said all of that, and while I’m excited for it, I don’t see it as a long-term alternative or possibility for the League. In particular I’m asked a lot about the North Division, the All-Canadian division, is that something we can see continuing on into the future. I think the Commissioner made it clear that that’s certainly not in our current thought process. We very much consider ourselves one league, a North American league with markets in Canada and the United States, and we want to make sure we continue to integrate all our clubs as we move forward. So I don’t view this to be a long-term solution. I do view it to be a potentially interesting and compelling short-term solution. It’s certainly not the current thought process to change it.”
The benefits of the taxi squad seem obvious at this time, but similar type of question as the first one: If it’s successful, is that something that could stick beyond this season so you have players right at the ready and they don’t need to travel if they are to be recalled because they’re with the team?
“I don’t think so. Again, I’m also curious to see how it plays out, but I think the taxi squad was very much designed with a COVID world in mind, with certainly the potential of same-day positives making players unavailable, same-day positives making contact tracing persons unavailable, the need to make substitutions in short order. All of those factors played into the concept of the taxi squad and I don’t see any of those factors being as compelling or necessary in a non-COVID world. Once we return to normalcy I think we will go back to the way we’ve traditionally operated. Our current CBA contemplates an active roster of up to 23 players. People manage those 23 spots differently and it very much is dependent on what your cap situation is and how much you’re paying your players. That will continue to be very strategic judgments and decisions that our general managers make on a daily basis. I like that model. I like what it adds from a standpoint of competition and strategy and the like. I don’t think there is anything wrong with our current system and the only reason we’re varying is the exigencies of a COVID world. I don’t see a future for the taxi squad.”
How flexible is the schedule? May 8 is considered the last day of the regular season, July 9 the last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final, but then there is nothing until the Seattle expansion draft July 21. Is that flexibility built into the schedule on an if-needed or as-needed basis?
“I think there are two areas of potential flexibility. Obviously if we have to move or postpone games we’re going to try to reschedule them in a way where we don’t alter the parameters of the season if at all possible. While that’s not always easy, I think it is easier given the realignment and the fact that most of your competition is going to be relatively close from a travel standpoint. As compared to what we would normally have to do to juggle games for rescheduling, it’s going to be a tad easier this season than it has in past seasons. But we also built in some flexibility at the end of the season. So after May 8, which is the last scheduled date of the regular season, there is some flexibility to reschedule games to finish out the season. We’re looking at both elements as things we may have to rely on to complete the season.”
The San Jose Sharks right now aren’t sure if they’re going to be able to play their home games at SAP Center. Is there any concern about schedule integrity if they can’t play at home, or is that just part of rolling with it this year in a COVID world?
“It’s part of rolling with it this year, but they’re going to be playing their designated home games from somewhere. It is a unique year in the sense that in-person live fan support is not really that much of a factor and I don’t expect it to be that much of a factor around the League in terms of fan engagement. It’s not perfect. It’s not ideal. I actually just got off the phone with a general manager explaining the same thing, that there is not a whole lot that is ideal in the situation we find ourselves in. But you make the best decisions you can with the most information you can gather and you roll with the punches.”
There was an interesting question about the 2021 NHL Draft and the prospects eligible for it during the press conference with yourself and Commissioner Bettman on Tuesday. It was about what to do that is fair for the draft-eligible prospects who may not get to play this season and the potential of maybe the NHL creating an opportunity for them and the scouts in a bubble format before the draft. How concerned is the NHL about prospect development and scouting this year?
“It’s been something that has concerned us from the beginning of the pandemic. Is this going to be very much a lost year in terms of development, elite player development? Who is playing? Who is not playing? Under what conditions are you playing? When the music stops how many chairs are left and who gets left out of the mix? Those are all concerns we have and we’ve been trying to manage the best we can. There have not been answers to everything and there is still not answers to everything. We’ll continue to play it by ear, understanding it’s a unique year and clubs will be handicapped in terms of evaluating prospects and prospects will continue to be handicapped in terms of their player development. It’s just the way it is.”
Even if the playoffs end on time, with the last possible day for the Stanley Cup Final currently being July 9, it’s still going to be a shorter than normal offseason if the 2021-22 season starts on time, meaning sometime in early October. Is the League contemplating pushing the start of the 2021-22 season back just to give more time for offseason business?
“We’ve thought about having to potentially start the regular season a little bit later than we normally do, but it wouldn’t be dramatic. Can you shift it a week or two weeks later potentially? Yes. If you don’t have to, you don’t. We have that degree of flexibility, but this very much was about the effort of returning to a normal calendar, or as normal a calendar, as quickly as we can, and we think we’re going to at least accomplish that.”
Where do we stand on the Olympics and possible NHL participation in 2022?
“I would be less than candid if I told you it’s been a front burner issue, because it hasn’t been. We all know the issue is there. We all know we’ll get to it. We did have during the last couple months virtual site tours of the Beijing venues and we participated in that with the NHL Players’ Association. We know that once we’re up and running it’s going to be an issue that we’ll continue to try to deal with with the Players’ Association first and foremost, but also with the relevant parties, whether it be the IOC or the IIHF or even the Beijing Olympic Committee. We’ll try to get to an end point, but it has not been a focus to this point.”
Player and puck tracking is coming in this season, with all 31 arenas set up for it. What do you think the immediate impact of player and puck tracking can be this season? Do you think there will be a short-term impact on broadcasts, fan engagement, media coverage?
“I view this more of an evolution than a revolution. I do think we’ll continue to integrate the tracking data into the presentation of our games in various ways and I think that integration will continue to ramp up over time. But it’s not going to be the same on Day One of the season as it will be on the last day of the season or the day the Stanley Cup is awarded. We’re well positioned to implement it on a league-wide basis now and you’ll continue to see it increase it’s presence within the game. But I wouldn’t expect any monumental shifts in the game based on player and puck tracking this year.”