EDMONTON — As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to level off somewhat in our world, the hope of resuming a National Hockey League season grows — at least here in Edmonton.
Following the announcement of the Colby Cave Memorial Fund on Tuesday, Bob Nicholson, chairman of the Edmonton Oilers, riffed on some options for restarting the NHL.
“We are really determined to finalize this season,” Nicholson said when asked about contingency plans should the 2019-20 season have to be cancelled.
“It could be July or August, but Gary (NHL Commissioner Bettman) has a number of different formulas for us to play in that time period.”
Nicholson outlined the most plausible scenario, which would entail playing out the 2019-20 season through August, September and October.
“Playing next season from November through to June, then getting it back into the regular course (for the following season). We just want to make sure we have it safe for our players, and safe for our fans to watch our great game. Time will tell if we’re able to do that,” Nicholson said.
“But we certainly are focused on finishing this season. The Oilers were having a great run here. We want to finish the season, get in the playoffs, and have a lot of excitement around Edmonton.”
NHL executives have been steadfast in not wanting to compromise the integrity of the 2020-21 season while finding a viable way to conclude the current campaign. Starting the new season in November, then foregoing the All-Star Game and the bye weeks for each team would, apparently, be a way to play an uncompromised, 82-game, 2020-21 season — even if it ends deep into June.
“I know Gary has talked a lot about us starting next season in the beginning of November,” Nicholson confirmed. “He’s looking at a lot of different options, but we could have this season and the playoffs (go) up ‘til November 1st. Those scenarios will be worked through. When it’s safe for us to play we’ll make a decision on what is the best method.”
One casualty of that plan would be the 2020 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scheduled for Edmonton and Red Deer this August. It seems highly unlikely that this tournament — the second-best U-18 event on the hockey calendar — will happen.
“I think we’ll be making a decision on that within the next seven to 10 days,” said Nicholson, who spoke with Hockey Canada last week and has a call with the IIHF in the coming days. “Everyone would like to see the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament happen, but in fairness, I’d rather see the Edmonton Oilers be in the playoffs in the month of August.”
Meanwhile, three days after the death of 25-year-old Oilers forward Colby Cave, the team and his family have come together on a fund that will bear the Battleford, Sask., native’s name.
“This is led by Emily, Colby’s wife,” Nicholson said. “She wants to have a fund under Colby’s name for mental health, and underprivileged kids to play sport. So we’re looking at all the hockey community — Western Hockey League, NHL — to join with us. We’re looking for people to donate to this, And really have something we can do on an annual basis to make a difference in people’s lives.
“It’s something that is really important to Colby. He worked a lot in the community, and if we can help kids and individuals with mental health, and also get kids to play hockey and other sports, it would be something that Colby and Emily will be very proud of.”
Cave died Saturday after a brain bleed caused by a colloid cyst. He was that underdog player that everyone cheered for, unfailingly polite and well-liked by all.
“Colby’s mom and dad, Al and Jennifer, and his sister Taylor, and what Colby meant to everybody in this organization …” Nicholson said. “You look at Colby, undrafted player, went to the Boston Bruins, they had a jersey for him in the (ECHL) and he never went there.
“It just showed the character of Colby, the type of player he was, how hard he worked, and now I look at it since this situation has come upon us, how our family has come together.”