The NHL has canceled hockey games because of a spate of Covid-19 cases among players. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not escaped COVID-19; and, in fact, were hit hard. Although players are returning to practices daily, at one time there were 14 players, three coaches, and several support staff in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.
In response, the NHL has for health and safety reasons wisely also postponed games in certain areas that have been hit hard. For the Maple Leafs, the province of Ontario has passed rules that have restricted the number of fans allowed in arenas. As a result, additional games have been postponed.
There’s been a lot of criticism over the NHL’s choices and a number of posts written about how these choices send a bad message about the league.
Why the Postponement of Capacity-Limited Games Can Benefit Fans
As well, many hockey blogs and posts criticize and even lambast the NHL, and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ ownership, for its “corporate greed” in delaying games because of small crowds in arenas. It doesn’t take long to find a myriad of fans or blog tweets complaining about the postponement of these games.
We disagree. Personally, although we think that the idea of postponing games is not a perfect idea, we believe it’s a good idea. In fact, when one considers the circumstances, we believe it’s an idea that will only benefit the fans in both the short-term and long-term for a number of reasons.
Four Reasons We Believe Postponing Maple Leafs’ Games Isn’t a Bad Idea
We believe there are four reasons postponing games is probably a good idea.
Reason One: Even at half capacity there are still a large number of people in a limited and confined space. Social distancing would still be impossible. In addition, the number of fans who wear masks around their chins instead of their faces is large. In short, people tend to minimize the risk in irresponsible ways.
Reason Two: With the 50 percent restrictions in Ontario, half the fans who bought tickets would be SOL (Simply out of luck). They wouldn’t get to see the games they had purchased tickets for. By postponing these games and making them up later, every ticket sold will be honored when the game is eventually played.
Reason Three: The salary cap has been severely restricted by the pandemic. With the new US TV contract, the legalization of single-sports betting, and the addition of a new franchise in Seattle, if it weren’t for COVID-19 and the lost money by NHL teams, the salary cap would be upwards of $10 million higher than it is now.
This higher salary cap would give Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas more wiggle room. It would allow teams like the Maple Leafs more breathing room at the upper limits of the salary cap. To put it another way, now that Morgan Rielly has been extended, the Maple Leafs wouldn’t have five players (maybe six when Jack Campbell is re-signed) making over half their salary cap next season.
Assuming the pandemic will get better and life might go back to a new normal, having to play before empty or half-full arenas would only make matters worse. It would prolong the freeze on the salary cap, which would make life even harder for the Maple Leafs’ salary-cap management. Waiting until arenas can play before full crowds will hopefully lead to the salary cap increasing sooner than later. [As a note, if life never goes back to something approaching normal again, we’ll all have a different kind of problem.]
As it is, the downward pressures on the salary cap caused by the pandemic affect hockey clubs and players into the near future. Sadly, its repercussions will also be felt for years to come. To make matters even more difficult for the Maple Leafs, they only have two players signed beyond 2024. That’s only two years from now. More income losses now would further complicate their negotiations in 2024.
Reason Four: The players wouldn’t be losing a third of their salaries to escrow. Although the NHL has not cut back the salary cap, the escrow, and recapture of salaries hurt the players’ earning power. Further losses in revenue would also directly affect them. Happier players mean easier labor relations. It might even help avoid player strikes or lockouts.
We Don’t Want Games Canceled: However, We Don’t Want the Maple Leafs to Be Disadvantaged Either
We wouldn’t want to see so many games postponed that the Maple Leafs will have to soon play at a pace of more than a game every two days. As anxious as we are to watch hockey, the postponement of games until the teams are allowed to have fans in the seats seems more of a positive than a negative impact.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf