Comment: Prolonging the inevitable

It’s starting to feel more and more like the Elite League are getting us ready for what we’re all half expecting and the sooner they announce it the better.  I’m talking about cancelling 2020/21.

A new season is projected to begin in December with pre-season exhibition games pencilled in for November and allowing for a couple of months for the teams to make their necessary arrangements to get ready, we’re getting to that point that a call has to be made.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen various figures working within the league cast some level of doubt on that.  It’s been made clear, without fans, there won’t be any action so you’re relying on no social distancing and the virus either going away or a vaccine coming in to change this.

This is all very unlikely.

Neil Black and Tony Smith haven’t exactly made encouraging noises over the possibility of seeing 2020/21 beginning in their recent interviews.

Ryan Finnerty and Gareth Chalmers remain hopeful, but are honest enough to admit they can’t see it happening as much as they’d like to.  Don’t be surprised if the rest of the coaches and GMs all feel the same way.

Tony, in an interview with BBC Sheffield, made an excellent point when he said while getting the league started may not be the issue, the prospect of another lockdown is and would really put the clubs’ futures in jeopardy.

Nottingham Panthers owner Neil Black also cast doubt on a December start (PHOTO: Katie Chadburn)

So, my question is a simple one.  Taking that into consideration, not to mention ongoing testing and social distancing, is it really worth risking?  Risk is on the clubs in the event of another shutdown and risk is on players and fans and the possibility of being infected.

My answer is no.  It isn’t.

Knowing the people who run the Elite League clubs, I’m more than sure they share my ideal world scenario of throwing the doors open, letting everyone in and watching something we’ve all come to miss in the last few months.

The reality is we’re so far away from it, talking about a new campaign is futile to the point, we may as well pack up and go home and start to prepare to restart a year from now.

Believe me, that’s the last thing I or anyone wants, but the safety of all the invested parties must be at the forefront of all of this.  

The hits all teams have taken has perhaps set them back already in terms of the markets they shop in for new players so instead of spending money on a season that’s likely to end before it begins, put all resources to a clean slate start a year from now and really build up its return.

Cardiff and Sheffield were the top two teams in the Elite League prior to the shutdown (PHOTO: Helen Brabon)

Where that leaves the clubs financially right now, I don’t know, but not having players or presumably coaches to pay certainly allows them more time.  If players have been signed, you would hope there’s a clause that means both parties can walk away without incurring any further cost and revisit in a few months time.

We’ve only just seen ice rinks re-open in England and Northern Ireland, however Scotland’s won’t open until mid-September while Wales have yet to announce when they can reopen, according to their last update a week ago.

Localised lockdowns in places like Manchester, Leicester and Aberdeen remind us the threat is still very much out there and you’re looking at a ‘what if’ scenario should somewhere like Sheffield or Glasgow be affected in the same way.

The bottom line is the risk is too great and while it would be the most reluctant decision to put top flight hockey on ice for a year, but it would be the most sensible one and let everyone know exactly where they stand.

Risky?  Yes, it would be for the survival of the clubs, but I would argue it’s probably a safer bet to play the long game than gamble on a season that could shut down again at a moment’s notice as this virus continues to play havoc on all of our lives.

There will be collateral damage if this is the route the EIHL go down and it’s more than likely we’ll see players decide to walk away.  I know we’re already seeing that in the lower levels, which is undeniably sad to see.  If they can find their way back when we can return, brilliant.  Let’s hope we can keep that to a minimum.

But I can’t help thinking a clearer route to starting again would give us all something to work towards, even if that is in a year’s time.  When that is announced should be sooner rather than later instead of prolonging the inevitable.

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