Downstream Effects of Coronavirus on NHL Combine & Draft

The hockey world has come to a full stop thanks to the Coronavirus. Where it goes from here nobody really knows for sure. It’s truly a surreal time for everyone involved.

But at some point, things will start to pick back up. Plans will be discussed and made. Eventually, we will get back to some kind of normalcy.

We know the questions facing the NHL decision-makers. Will the season resume? If so, when? And how will they figure out the playoffs? That’s a small tip of the iceberg.

Our focus here will be on the upcoming NHL Combine and Draft. Depending what happens in the next month or two, we might see some unprecedented events unfold in both of these events. That will be for the league to decide. But let’s ponder some possibilities.

The Combine

Let’s start with the events themselves. The NHL Combine was scheduled for Buffalo’s Harbor Center during the first week of June. The obvious question here is will this event even be held? You are talking around 100 prospects along with league staff, team staff, media and building staff all together in very close proximity. If things don’t change in the grand scheme by say the middle of May, I’m not sure how you can have everyone together like that.

In addition, if the event is held, you’d have to think they’d change how they do media availability. Prospects at the end of the week meet with the media in scrum format. I would expect availability to be done in a similar fashion to what the NHL did in the last week; a controlled area with distance between the player and the media. No matter what is decided, the NHL will act in the best interest of everyone involved.

As of now, no decision has been made about the Combine. Given the current circumstances, I’d be very surprised if the Combine is held given the number of people together in a confined area. But we still have a couple of months to see what develops. Stay tuned on this one. I wouldn’t be surprised to see organized workouts closed off to the media if something develops.

Mads Søgaard Medicine Hat Tigers
With many folks in one confined area at the Combine, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this event changed or canceled. (Photo Credit: Nathaniel A. Oliver).

The Draft

That leads us to the draft itself. You have 31 teams on the draft floor at tables along with media and all of the fans. This year, we are talking the Bell Centre in Montreal. Could you imagine how packed that place would be if the Canadiens won the draft lottery and drafted Alexis Lafreniere?

If the current climate remains by the end of June, how could you have a packed arena like that? So if it turns out the NHL has to look at alternative options to hold the draft, what would it look like?

One thing I could see happen is a remote draft. This already happens in junior hockey. Basically, when it’s your turn, you announce your pick over the phone on a conference call. Teams have a war-room like setup where they’re all at their home arena when the draft is taking place. Connor McDavid was drafted by the Erie Otters in this manner just to give you some perspective.

Another option the league could consider is conducting the draft in an empty arena. This way, you limit those at the Bell Centre to prospects, family, staff and media. Again, how the next two months go will determine which way this goes.

There’s also the possibility of pushing the draft back to July. This especially could happen if the season ends later. Perhaps allowing more time will open more options.

No matter what happens, we can reasonably expect changes to these major events on the NHL calendar. What changes are made will be fascinating to watch.

Rimouski Oceanic Alexis Lafreniere
When, where and how will Alexis Lafreneire hear his name called at the NHL Draft? (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

What About the Prospects?

We’ve talked about the events. But what about the prospects themselves? I mean, yikes! Their seasons for now have been cut short. There’s no indication as of yet if they’ll resume down the road. So there’s at least a chance the prospects have played their last game before the draft. Could you imagine what they’re thinking right now? They’ve worked their tails off to be ready for their moment and here we are going day-to-day not knowing what’s next.

Prospects have gotten a late season bump in previous seasons thanks to postseason play or the U-18 tournament. With those out of play at this time, prospects might not get another chance to make an impression on the ice. Teams also used postseason to get their final looks at players and to also make confirmations of where players fall on their lists. How will this affect teams leading up to the draft now? Generally teams have a pretty good idea by now of where someone stacks up. But removing a key element of the calendar will have its effects on some teams.

What Could Be Next?

The NHL made the correct decision in putting the season on hiatus for now. But there is no handbook in how to handle things in trying to start back up. So we are all in the same boat wondering not only how long this will last, but also wondering what’s next. All possibilities exist from business as usual with the Combine and Draft all the way up to and including rescheduling or canceling events.

If there is a takeaway to be had, it’s this. Be prepared for something that could look quite different than the norm. The show will eventually go on. But how we get to that point is what we’ll monitor.

No matter what happens, this is something nobody will ever forget anytime soon.