Olympics postponement extends window to stage Stanley Cup Playoffs

St. Louis Blues' Alexander Steen carries the Stanley Cup after the Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

The impending postponement of the Tokyo Olympics will extend the potential window for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be held this summer, the NHL told its teams on Monday.

That news came as part of a question-and-answer sheet circulated along with a league memo, according to a source.

The NHL also conducted a teleconference with its Board of Governors for the first time since putting its season on pause March 12. Monday afternoon’s session with governors included updates on the COVID-19 outbreak, financial projections on how the league could be affected by the pandemic and a discussion about some of the contingency options under consideration for a potential resumption of play.

That now includes the possibility of extending the playoffs beyond July 24, when the Olympics in Tokyo were originally set to get underway. It only seems like a matter of time before those Games are officially put off until 2021, with the Canadian Olympic Committee already having withdrawn its athletes and IOC member Dick Pound telling The Canadian Press on Monday: “You’re looking at a postponement. I think that’s out there now.”

For the NHL, it extends the window to meet its stated goal of crowning a champion this season. The league shares a U.S. broadcast partner with the Olympics in NBC and had previously believed the playoffs had to be wrapped up before the cauldron was lit during the Opening Ceremonies.

That extra time could be valuable with the coronavirus still spreading rapidly in North America — although at this stage there’s only so much the league can even tell team owners about where things are headed.

It remains a huge unknown for both the wider population and the sports leagues that operate within them.

While it’s believed the NHL has already engaged in a fair amount of dialogue on contingency plans — what does the playoff format look like if games can resume May 15? Or June 1? Or June 8? How is the start of next season impacted if the Stanley Cup isn’t awarded until Aug. 15 or Aug. 30? — the league is essentially in a holding pattern when it comes to making actual decisions.

Those will ultimately depend heavily on recommendations from the governments and leading authorities like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a question-and-answer document published by the NHL’s public relations department on Monday afternoon, the league indicated that it isn’t sure if any part of the regular season might still be played or what a reimagined playoff format will look like.

“The form and format of resumption of play scenarios will depend entirely on what transpires between now and when we are permitted and able to resume — and, ultimately, on timing and taking into account logistical constraints,” said the NHL’s release. “We are going to have to be flexible and react to events as they unfold as well as the best medical advice available.”

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