Dallas Stars’ Weather-Related Game Postponements Further Complicate The NHL’s Scheduling Puzzle

Jul 04, 2021 12:22PM

Nick Caamano #17 of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 22, 2021 in Dallas, ... [+] Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images Just over a month into the 2020-21 NHL season, game postponements due to Covid-19 challenges have become commonplace. This week brought a new wrinkle, as the Dallas Stars postponed two scheduled home games against the Nashville Predators as part of the region’s response to the weather-related Federal Emergency Declaration that was issued on Saturday for the state of Texas. Frigid temperatures and snow have triggered extremely high demands for power, which have led to rotating outages. An hour before Monday’s scheduled 7:30 p.m. CT puck drop, the league accepted the request of Dallas mayor Eric Johnson not to go ahead with the game. Tuesday’s game was cancelled the following morning. Earlier on Monday, Stars’ CEO and president Brad Alberts told Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News that the game itself would not take power away from residents because the American Airlines Center is on the city’s critical infrastructure grid. Not long before game time, the mayor’s office disputed that logic. “I don’t know the status of that grid, but frankly, the Stars game is not critical infrastructure. It’s just not,” said Tristan Hallman, the spokesperson for mayor Johnson, when issuing the request to postpone the game. He also pointed out that fans at home would be putting demands on the power grid when they turned on their TVs to watch the game. “We don’t need people across the region who have power using power to watch the game,” Hallman said. Monday and Tuesday’s games were supposed to be the fifth and sixth in an eight-game homestand for the Stars. The NBA’s Dallas Mavericks hosted the Portland Trail Blazers at the American Airlines Center on Sunday, but announced Tuesday that they’ve postponed their next scheduled game, Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. The Stars are currently scheduled to close out their homestand with a pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Thursday and Saturday. It’s not unusual to see occasional weather-related postponements during an NHL season. This year, more lost games for the Stars add to an already challenging situation for the league’s schedule-maker. In addition to compressing a 56-game regular-season schedule into less than four months, postponements related to Covid-19 have already forced the league to make significant adjustments along the way. Monday and Tuesday’s Stars/Predators games are the 36th and 37th of the season to be postponed. Because of a Covid-19 outbreak during training camp, the Stars were the last team to start their season, after their first four scheduled games were postponed. With 12 games played, the Stars are now 5-3-4. But three other teams have also had Covid-19 issues that have kept them idle for significant stretches of time. The Buffalo Sabres returned to action on Monday after two weeks off the ice, and will play their 12th game of the year on Tuesday. Exactly two weeks after their last game, the Minnesota Wild will play their 12th game of the year in Los Angeles on Tuesday. And the New Jersey Devils will play just their 10th game when they return from a 15-day layoff against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. By contrast, the Vancouver Canucks are more than a third of the way through their schedule. They lead the league with 19 games played. No games have been postponed to date in the all-Canadian Scotia North Division. Of the 37 postponed games, 18 have been rescheduled as of Tuesday, and one has been played. On Feb. 13, the San Jose Sharks dropped a 3-1 decision to the Vegas Golden Knights in their first game on their own home ice at SAP Center since March 8, 2020. The game had originally been scheduled for Feb. 1, but was the second of three games that the Golden Knights had postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak that primarily impacted their coaching staff. When this season’s schedule was announced, the league indicated to its clubs that it was aiming to complete the playoffs by July 9 — potentially extending as far as July 15, per The Athletic. That’s about a month later than usual, but the league is hoping that it leaves enough time to conduct all necessary offseason business and get back onto a normal schedule for 2021-22, with training camps opening in September and the regular season beginning in October. The league’s U.S. broadcast partner, NBC, also holds the rights to Tokyo’s Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on July 23. All parties would like to see the Stanley Cup awarded before that date. Does that leave enough time to make up all postponed games? Even with the season already tightly packed, the league has done its best to reschedule games within the current framework. When the schedule was announced, the final day for regular-season games was set for May 8. So far, just one postponed game has slotted in later than that — Dallas at Tampa Bay, on Monday, May 10. After the 2019-20 season was paused last March, the NHL resolved the issue of an uneven number of games played by using a points-percentage calculation to determine which clubs were eligible for the 24-team postseason. It wouldn’t be ideal, but if there isn’t enough time to get all teams to 56 games, it could be an option to use points percentage once again. That number has been added to the standings page on the website this season, for the first time. Last week, the league instituted additional, more rigid Covid-19 protocols in an effort to avoid additional team outbreaks like we’ve seen over the past few weeks. With the Sabres, Wild, Devils and Colorado Avalanche all now back in action, only the Philadelphia Flyers remain sidelined — and they’re close to returning. After being shut down for a week, the Flyers practiced for the first time on Tuesday. They’re looking to return to action on Thursday before travelling to Lake Tahoe for their NHL Outdoors game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. As for the Stars, the timing of their return to the ice will be determined by Mother Nature and government authorities.

Steven Buchanan