The National Hockey League has seen a lot of postponements over COVID-19 concerns with particular teams this year. The latest news there comes from the league’s announcement Sunday of the rescheduling of 19 separate games. And what’s particularly interesting about that is how the two games with the latest rescheduled date (Edmonton at Montreal and Boston at Washington) are now set for Tuesday, May 11, which is the date when the playoffs were supposed to start.
Of course, this is only a three-day change. This season (a shortened 56-game campaign all in 2021, following the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 campaign, which saw the Stanley Cup awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in September) had originally been planned to conclude on May 8. So if this bumps the playoffs three further days, to May 14, that’s not necessarily the biggest deal in the world. And this might also not even cause that much of an overall delay; the league’s decision to only play intra-division games this year means that teams outside the North and East divisions (so those in the Central and West) aren’t affected by the Oilers-Canadiens and Bruins-Capitals games on May 11. (However, May 10 now has games with teams from all divisions, so even if the Central and West playoffs start first, they might not start earlier than May 13).
Even a two- or three-day shift here is significant, though. This year’s NHL playoffs were already set to run through July, almost a month later than the typical finish (for comparison, the 2019 Stanley Cup Final saw Game 7 played on June 12). Delaying that further isn’t ideal, especially with last season’s date-shifted final drawing the lowest ratings since 2007. And any delay means the NHL sees further competition from the crucial late stages of the NBA playoffs, which are currently set to end by July 22. A delay also has potential impacts on the start of the 2021-22 NHL season, which was supposed to be a return to a more normal schedule. And beyond that, just because this looks like a two- or three-day delay at the moment, that doesn’t mean that’s all it will be in the end. There are a whole lot of games to be made up here, and if there are issues making up those games, the NHL may wind up with more scheduling problems still.