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NHL shutdown throws Red Wings' important offseason events into state of uncertainty

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – The NHL is on hiatus – just like all the other sports leagues in North America – due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The NHL will return at some point, but what the conclusion of the 2019-20 season will be is anyone's guess.

Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings have a lot of important work to do to prepare for the draft.

Will the Red Wings resume their schedule and play their remaining 11 games, or will the NHL go straight to the playoffs?

The league is considering different scenarios but the situation remains extremely fluid.

What to do with the playoffs – where there is so much potential revenue – is a big-ticket item to be decided.

The Stanley Cup has not been awarded just twice since 1893, so the NHL seemingly will do everything in its power to crown a champion, even if it means playing into July. 

Regular season

When the season was put on hold, there were 189 games left, or roughly 15 percent of the 2019-20 campaign.

Do the games get scrapped, given the tight time frame? Or does the league do everything it can to preserve the 82-game season and, for financial reasons, complete the season (that’s a lot of missed revenue)?

The NBA has announced going on hiatus for 30 days and then re-evaluating. The NHL is on a similar time frame, and could seamlessly skate right into the playoffs.

So we may have seen the last of the Red Wings for this season.

Playoffs

This will be intriguing to watch.

One reason it would be nice to complete the regular season would be so every team could play 82 games and decide playoff qualifiers that way.

Currently, teams have played anywhere from 68 to 71 games. So if the NHL went straight to the postseason, how do playoff teams qualify, or what playoff matrix is used, with such disparity?

One possibility is 10-12 teams from each conference going directly into a playoff format, with the bottom four teams qualifying with a play-in format (i.e. three-game series) before advancing to the next round.

Reportedly, the league has asked teams about building availability all the way into July. That wouldn’t be ideal, given the difficulty of maintaining quality ice in the peak of summer heat. It’s already an issue, occasionally, in June during some NHL Finals series.

An NHL postseason that stretched into July would make for a very short turnaround for training camps, which open in September.

Draft Combine 

Scheduled for June 1-6 in Buffalo, the event is a great opportunity for team talent evaluators to get to know prospects, as well as physically test them.

Though not nearly as big as the NFL Draft Combine, there’s still a steady flow of media during the week, plenty of news stories, and it's generally a good event as the NHL.

The Red Wings don’t make final decisions based on their week at the combine. But if there’s a close call between two prospects, the combine can be valuable in breaking the tie.

But the combine has to be in doubt at this point. With so many prospects coming in from Europe, who knows what the travel restrictions will be in early June? Plus, you have so many people gathering in one place; what will the limitations be, if any?

It looks like information gathered during the regular season, and the scouting of games, will be mighty important this year.

NHL Draft 

For Red Wings fans, the June 26-27 NHL Draft in Montreal has been an anticipated event. The Wings have already clinched the worst record, and with that they'll have an 18.5 percent chance of landing the top pick in the draft lottery.

Alexis Lafreniere is considered the No. 1 prospect in the NHL Draft.

Now, which teams will be in the lottery, and with what odds, are big questions.

With details to be determined, you would still assume the Wings would still be guaranteed a top-four draft pick, given that’s the rules currently for the 31st team in the league.

There’s also the question of holding the draft itself in Montreal. Again, you have hundreds of prospects and their families – including many from Europe – who will travel to the draft.

Will the league feel entirely safe at that point to have so many people gather in one setting?

Much will depend, obviously, on where the threat is. But when the lockout ended in 2005, the NHL simply held a scaled-down version of the draft in Ottawa with only a fraction of the draft picks and their families, and team personnel, attending.

Free agency

Unrestricted free agency is scheduled to begin July 1, but will it?

If the regular season and playoffs are pushed back, that would force the NHL to do the same with free agency. But how will the salary cap be affected by the potential loss of revenue if games are cancelled?

The NHL is a league with a lot of questions and no answers for the time being.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan