Q&A With the Man Behind the Scenes

 In Vegas Sports Lines Picks

  • In a Q&A with the NHL’s Chief Content Officer, The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun and Scott Burnside touched on some of the league’s return-to-play hot-button issues

Topics include:

  • What fans can expect in terms of how the game will look for feel without fans in the arena
  • Proposed return-to-play format
  • Hub Cities/Criteria
  • Draft Preparation

In  a recent Q&A (subscription required), The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside quizzed the NHL’s Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer on some of the current hot-button issues that are surrounding the league potentially returning to action.

While there are content and media-related questions as well, for the purpose of this piece, we’ll stick to the hockey stuff and Mayer’s thoughts on getting the game back on the ice.

What Fans Cant Expect With Empty Arenas

I’ve wondered this question for a long time: how am I going to feel watching NHL playoff games with the atmosphere (fans) sucked out of the building?

“How do you make the environment visually exciting, how do you make what you’re listening to exciting as well? And how do you make it feel and look a little different from game to game, I think that’s also one of the challenges…. We’re getting really close, and I’ve not giving you any hints here, but we are getting really close to our playoffs and whether we start with the end of ofur season or we start with the playoffs, what’s happening on the ice is going to be pretty important and I think worthy of people’s attention no matter what the arena looks like.”

“But there’s no question we’re keeping an eye out on how they [other leagues] have approaching things, especially those who have already started. And what’s working and what’s not… We are evolving into a plan that I hope our fans like when they see it.”

The Evolving, Proposed Return to Play Format

“I will just say this: I went to sleep on Friday, and I woke up on Saturday and it was different.”

“Obviously, I know a little more from being side, it’s an ever-evolving plan and it’s changing all the time. All the time. I think the talks are fantastic between the NHLPA, the player and Gary (Bettman) and Bill (Daly), who are primarily in those discussions; but it’s ever-changing and ever-ongoing.”

“This could be two months from now, three months from now, it could be six weeks from now: we’re ready. We had so much planning. We feel confident.”

“Whether we’re going to deal with 24 teams and a playoff that gets to 16, whatever it is, our job to make sure we execute that tournament and make it flawless than have fans enjoy what we out our on a daily basis. And it could be three games a day, six games a day… But we’re planning logistically, we’ve got our act together.”

Hub Cities and Criteria

Where could the league play and what’s the criteria for selection?

“By far the most important aspect in all of this is putting our teams, our players, our staff, putting everyone in the safest environment where they feel unbelievably comfortable in that once they enter, they will be taken care of and that everybody around them is also safe.”

“We started the process with a few teams which fir one reason or another grew to many teams, and now we’re back down to what I would consider a workable group.”

“Our criteria is simple… It will be an NHL city that will host whether we’re in two cities or four cities. We needed also an arena that can handle four to six teams, locker-rooms, not every arena can do that.”

“You had to look at practise facilities, at one point we were talking about eight teams, 12 teams, we’re talking potential training camps, so each of these cities has to have a respectable amount of sheets of ice that could handle a training camp or certainly a practice for a team.”

The hotel requirement is super important: eight teams is different than 12 teams. It we decide to do 12 teams, that would eliminate certain cities just based on creating this hub.”

“And then, COVID numbers are important, testing accessibility is important, local government support is important.”

“We have presented to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly a very detailed list, city by city, again there are many cities that are still in the running for this.”

Draft Preparation

“Absolutely the return to play is tied to the draft… We’re also prepared for what could be a draft before-hand, we have no indication, I mean, Gary is going to make that decision and I do think it is going to be tied to when and where we come back for a return to play.”

“Obviously, if we’re going to do this before-hand, it will be a virtual draft and we have reached out to our friends at the NFL, to our friends at ESPN, we have a pretty good knowledge of what they did on the NFL Draft.”

“But I don’t really have a really good feel as to whether or not we’ll do it before-hand or after (the season). But I would say it is all tied to the announcement of our return.”

While these are some of the notable quotes, you can view and/or subscribe to view the entire piece – which I would recommend – by clicking on LeBrun’s Tweet below or visiting TheAthletic.com

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