COVID-19: Future of current NHL season remains in question

Griff MacDonald / May 14, 2020

If the NHL season is to continue, games will likely be played with no fans.

(Griff MacDonald/BCIT News)

It has been over two months since we last witnessed major North American professional sports, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent weeks, there has been plenty of discussion and debate as to how, if, when, and where we may see the resumption of professional sports. Focusing specifically on the National Hockey League, the league has been weighing options that would allow the 2019-2020 season and playoffs to be completed. Vancouver Canucks play-by-play voice, John Shorthouse, says cancelling the remainder of the season could work to reinforce the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic should not be taken lightly, and may help more people understand how serious this situation really is.

Shorthouse has long been the Canucks’ play-by-play voice, starting first on the radio and moving to the television side more than a decade ago. Despite ongoing discussions about resuming this NHL season, he remains skeptical that it will ever happen.

“I just don’t see it happening. I know that there is financial incentive both on the ownership side and the player’s side. I know there is certainly an appetite for it for people who are looking for anything to sink their teeth into, sports at the end of the day is a great form of escapism. I just don’t see how it’s going to happen.” – John Shorthouse, Vancouver Canucks Play-by-play announcer

The NHL and NHL players association have been connecting on a weekly basis for ‘Return to Play’ committee meetings in an effort to map out potential scenarios for a return to play. The group has discussed the best possible avenues for completing the season, such as selecting a handful of neutral cities that would host the remainder of the regular season games for a number of teams.

According to Shorthouse, a solution such as this would mean that all teams would be forced to quarantine in hotels, not leaving other than to go to the arena to play their games. There is speculation that the Return to Play committee could come to some sort of an agreement by the end of May. Earlier this week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the plan is still to try and finish this regular season and playoffs, even if it means delaying the beginning of the 2020-2021 season.

There have been rumours that if the NHL does decide to play out the remainder of the season in neutral locations, that Vancouver is being considered as one of those locations. With British Columbia having announced the province’s gradual re-opening in phases last week, Premier John Horgan said that he would be speaking with Gary Bettman this week to discuss the idea of the NHL returning in Vancouver. Having been staying up to date on this possibility, Shorthouse says he was surprised to hear that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry did not rule out the idea and was in favour of it as long as the games can be played safely.

“When Vancouver’s name popped up as a possibility and when I saw Dr. Henry’s response to the question being completely different than what I expected her to say, I was a little taken aback by that and made me think ‘maybe this might happen.’” – John Shorthouse, Vancouver Canucks Play-by-play announcer

Despite the province’s seemingly comfortable stance on Vancouver hosting a possible NHL return, Shorthouse, feels that the league is still not ready as there are still many hotspots for the virus in a number of North American NHL cities. He says that at times, the NHL and other pro sports leagues have perhaps done a disservice to the general public by suggesting a return to play is imminent.

Shorthouse says that it will be very interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks, and that a NHL season cancellation is still a real possibility.

You can listen to the full 15-minute interview with John Shorthouse below: