Drew Doughty skeptical whether 2019-20 NHL season will return

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper about the league's preparation for resuming or canceling the remainder of the season.

Drew Doughty can’t be the only one thinking it.

But he is the first prominent NHL player to come right out and voice skepticism about the league finding a way to finish off its 2019-20 season amid a global pandemic.

“Honestly, I don’t see how the season is going to return. I really don’t,” Doughty told reporters on a conference call Monday.

While top league officials have remained hopeful about completing the year amid the uncertainty of a COVID-19 outbreak that has brought North America to a standstill, the Los Angeles Kings defenceman thinks time will run out on those efforts.

Part of that comes down to the fact he isn’t convinced that playing through July and August is a good idea even though the NHL is willing to do so.

“I think it’d be tough to do that,” said Doughty. “It would affect the next season. I know they so badly want to give out the Stanley Cup this year, but in all seriousness, it’s not going to be like winning a real Stanley Cup because the [regular] season wasn’t finished. There’s teams that couldn’t get in the playoffs. And then I’m assuming they’d have to come up with a different playoff format.

“So, I don’t know. It’d be a little different. I’m not a huge fan of it, as much as I want to play. I just don’t want things to go into next season and affecting those.”

Doughty returned to his off-season home in London, Ont., shortly after the NHL season was paused on March 12 and didn’t even bring his hockey equipment — not that there’s available ice for him to skate on anyways.

What’s been tough for the 30-year-old is feeling stuck in limbo for a month.

The league has twice extended the period of self-quarantine for players and staff, and is expected to do so for a third time with the current window set to expire on Wednesday. Behind the scenes, there are ongoing discussions about potential return-to-play protocols that could see the 2020-21 regular season pushed back to November.

“I don’t know what I’m working out for, exactly,” said Doughty, whose Kings were well out of playoff contention when the current season was put on pause. “When you think about it, because they’ve been telling us we could come back at any time type-of-thing, we never really got a break.

“So I don’t really know how this is going to work if they do cancel the season.”

The NHL hasn’t yet been able to chart a specific path forward, but has told teams it remains hopeful about completing the season.

During a Monday afternoon appearance on CNN, commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged that his league at the mercy of factors beyond its control: “Until there’s a sense that people can get together, not just in our arenas but for our players to get together to work out, we don’t know when we can come back.”

Doughty’s views about the season likely being lost are shared by those with medical expertise.

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, speaking to the New York Times Magazine, said last week that it could be another 18 months before games are played again in front of fans: “Larger gatherings — conferences, concerts, sporting events — when people say they’re going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that’s a plausible possibility. I think those things will be the last to return. Realistically we’re talking fall 2021 at the earliest.”

Even the idea of finishing the regular season and playoffs at neutral site venues might be far-fetched. Zach Binney, who holds a PhD in epidemiology, told Sports Illustrated that “it’s a lot harder to pull off in practice than most people appreciate.”

The development of a treatment that reduces the death rate for those with the novel coronavirus would certainly make a resumed season more plausible. Access to point of service testing seems like a necessity as well.

However, with the virus still spreading across North America and the death toll rising by the day, it’s getting increasingly more difficult for a NHL veteran like Doughty to imagine any games being played before the fall.

“I think it’s more of what’s going on in the whole world,” said Doughty. “Everything just keeps getting delayed even more, like lockdowns and stuff like that. People are dying even more every day. So I just don’t see how or when we’re going to be able to make
any type of decision to return to the season.

“And then when that comes into play, then you’ve got to figure out all the logistics. It just seems very, very hard to be able to do.

“But us players are going to stay ready for whatever.”

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