With each of its seven Canadian franchise's buildings sitting empty to start the new year, the NHL isn't expecting many more games north of the border to be postponed due to attendance issues, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said during an interview with Sportsnet 590 The FAN on Monday, as the league is running out of time to make up the games already postponed.
"I wouldn't say we're at that point definitively yet, but I think that we're basically there," Daly told The FAN Drive Time's Ben Ennis and Stephen Brunt. "I think what we've done for the Canadian franchises, to this point, it contemplates postponements out through kind of the middle of January. That's about as far as we can go. I don't expect to see a lot of Canadian home dates further moved — I think we're pretty much there."
The NHL has postponed more than 90 games so far this season due to COVID-19 concerns. As all seven teams in Canada are playing under various levels of attendance restrictions imposed by provincial governments — from as low as zero per cent in Quebec to as high as 50 per cent in Alberta — the league has postponed a number of Canadian team games with hopes of rescheduling said games at a later date when more fans will be allowed back in the building.
However, two games hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs — on Jan. 1 against Ottawa and Jan. 5 against Edmonton — remain on the schedule, as the NHL gave the Maple Leafs a choice as to whether those games would go ahead, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported.
Daly outlined the process undertaken by the league to reorganize the schedule in an effort to allow Canadian franchises to host more fans, a process that's become far more complicated as the situation has grown from one involving only the Montreal Canadiens and the Maple Leafs to one affecting every Canadian club.
"Certainly the intention is that these games we're postponing, we're going to reschedule and hopefully be able to play in front of more fans. Which probably is good for the fans, good for the clubs and good for the players. But you know, once you're dealing with seven clubs who all of a sudden have issues with respect to welcoming fans in person, it becomes a much tougher issue than it was with one team having those restrictions. So you have to balance and you have to try to be fair to everyone and take really a lot of different factors into account in deciding how you go about doing that," Daly said.
"I got a lot of questions over the weekend with respect to Ottawa's trip out west to Western Canada and playing Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in succession in buildings that will largely be empty, if not totally empty. The fact of the matter is, because of Ottawa's COVID situation earlier in the year, they don't really have a lot of room left on their schedule for us to build in West Coast swings. So those are games they really have to play if we want to complete the season in any semblance of the current timeframe."
As the league moves through another wave of postponed games, many have wondered about that particular issue — whether a full 82-game season is still possible, or whether we're staring down another shortened campaign and altered post-season format.
According to Daly, the league currently has enough room built into its schedule to complete a full season.
"We have places in the calendar for all 82 games, for all 32 teams," he told Ennis and Brunt. "And we probably have a little bit of cushion remaining. Not a whole lot — we certainly can't have more weeks like we've had the last two weeks in succession, because that will create a problem for us. But yes, we have good ideas of where these games will be rescheduled."
While the NHL seems on track to play out its 2021-22 season as normally as possible, questions remain about how the league's future finances will be affected by the recent postponements. In early December, commissioner Gary Bettman said he expected the league's salary cap would continue to rise by $1 million each year moving forward and would spike again a few seasons after this current one.
Daly said Monday that he believes it's too early to predict how the slate of postponements that have occurred since Bettman's early-December statement could impact the situation down the line.
"I think it's a little bit early to project that," he said. "I mean, obviously at the board meeting, which was the second week of December, we were projecting league-wide revenues that would have exceeded our last full season, which was 2018-19, and would have exceeded also projections for the 2019-20 season before the pandemic hit. Obviously those projections are affected by what's going on in Canada, and by having already played in empty buildings. There's no doubt about that.
"But as we indicated before, certainly the hope is that a lot of these games will be rescheduled in better circumstances where fans can be in the building."
Listen to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly's full interview with Sportsnet 590 The FAN's Ben Ennis and Stephen Brunt via the audio clip embedded within this post.