Islanders' Anders Lee confident NHL's return-to-play issues can be resolved
Major League Baseball’s effort to start its season is morphing into a financial spat between its owners and players over diminished revenues empty ballparks will bring.
The NHL, too, is facing the likelihood of playing games in empty arenas if it can restart its season put on hold on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league and the NHL Players’ Association have discussed numerous models for the potential resumption of play, though there hasn’t been a concrete proposal such as the one MLB made to its Players’ Association on Tuesday.
Islanders captain Anders Lee, also the team’s NHLPA representative, told Newsday on Tuesday it is encouraging to see other professional organizations making plans to return — the NFL released its schedule on Thursday, the UFC held a card on Saturday, NASCAR has an event on Sunday and the PGA plans to return in June — but he understands there are still issues to resolve, health and financial among them, before hockey can be played.
“It’s such a fluid situation and there’s so much to figure out,” Lee said. “It’s not just, ‘Go restart and try to keep it as safe as possible.’ There’s a bunch of little things, lots of negotiations that go into it on both sides.
“I’m still really optimistic about everything,” Lee added. “Not just our league but how leagues are trying to move forward and get back to normal.”
The NHL is hoping to reopen practice facilities for small-group workouts by the end of this month if it gets the go-ahead from health and government officials. The players would likely need a three-week training camp before games could be resumed.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said games could resume as late as July or August and next season’s start could be pushed back to December.
“Whatever we do, it’s going to affect next year so the next season is definitely involved in all of this regardless of when we start or if we don’t start,” Lee said. “I know we’re all living on that hope that we can come back and finish things off.
“There has to be mutual agreement on both sides,” Lee added. “That’s going to include revenues. It’s tough to project and have predictions on what’s going on with regards to the financials of all these things when there’s so much uncertainty. I know we’re working together really well right now and just really trying to come to a nice solution.”
Lee said he’s hopeful the current cooperation between the NHL and the NHLPA — Bettman has said he’s in contact with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr almost daily — will be helpful when the sides negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires in 2022.
“As long as we can keep that momentum,” Lee said. “When both parties have that nice open dialogue and communication, things definitely move forward.”
A source told Newsday on Saturday the NHL had narrowed its options for the potential resumption of play to two models. The first includes 24 teams, with the top teams battling for playoff seeding and the bottom teams battling for a playoff spot. The second includes 16 teams going straight to the postseason.
The Islanders were one point out of a wild-card spot when play was halted but would be in the top 16 if the standings were determined on point percentage.
Lee said he was confident the Islanders would be included in any resumption of play. He added the consistent optimism Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has expressed has been helpful.
“It’s infectious,” Lee said. “It gives you hope that we are going to figure this out. It keeps those competitive juices going that we had flying in the middle of the season before things stopped.”