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Sam Carchidi: With COVID-19 raging, NHL should play a 48-game season in hub cities

By Sam Carchidi, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Hockey

The NHL has repeatedly said it plans to start its abbreviated season Jan. 1. It wants to play 60 games, has admitted it may have to drop it to 48, and hopes to award the Stanley Cup by July 15.

Doable?

From here, no.

Oh, there may be a 48-game season and finishing by July 15 is not out of the question, but starting Jan. 1 seems overly optimistic.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and friends sing their version of "High Hopes," it seems unrealistic to begin the season on New Year's Day as the coronavirus pandemic grows around the world, including on hockey teams at all levels (See the Columbus Blue Jackets, numerous college and junior squads, and the Canadian World Junior team, among countless others.).

In the coming weeks, the list will undoubtedly grow as the virus rages.

 

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With that as a backdrop, it seems highly unlikely the NHL will be able to start training camps in mid-December, which is necessary for the season to kick off on Jan. 1. It also seems more unlikely that games will be played at home teams' arenas this season.

The sensible thing to do: Delay the season until a vaccine is widely distributed. But vaccine experts say about 70% of the population needs to be immunized to achieve herd immunity – a milestone that isn't likely to happen, they say, until May.

Don't expect the NHL to wait that long to start its season. If the schedule were to start in May, it wouldn't be feasible to play enough games and finish the Stanley Cup playoffs by July 15, the league's target date so it wouldn't interfere with the Tokyo Olympics and, more importantly, so it would enable the 2021-22 campaign to start on a normal schedule in early October.

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