Scheduling NHL season with, without Olympics causes chaos

The NHL's 2021-22 regular season schedule included a Winter Olympics break from February 7-22. However, the NHL stated that no final agreement had been reached regarding player participation.The NHL would change to a revised schedule if it doesn't send players to the Beijing Games. It will use as many dates as possible from the current schedule. However, changing the schedules so late in an already shortened offseason would have a significant impact on NHL teams. They are already selling tickets and booking travel based upon the current schedule."In my own conversations there are some teams acting like this Armageddon," an NHL executive said to ESPN this week.Three weeks after the schedule was announced, talks are ongoing between the NHLPA, IIHF, NHL and IOC. There is no indication that a deal could be reached on player participation. The rising numbers of the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID restrictions placed on athletes in Beijing could complicate matters. These COVID restrictions could be even more severe than those that were applied to players during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs bubbles. After promising in last summer's collective agreement with players that it would attend the next two Winter Games, the NHL has stated that the pandemic was a major factor in its decision to not go to the Olympics.Fans have been informed by at least two NHL teams that they will make a decision about Olympic participation by August 31st.ESPN's Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, stated that "yes" is the correct answer.Each 32 teams have copies the "revised” schedule, which is available to them without any Olympic breaks. Long road trips are generally scheduled around the same time on both schedules. This coincides with building availability. There are however dramatic differences in some places. Some teams predict that 16 of the 41 home dates will need to be rescheduled. One NHL team stated that six of its eight opening-month games would be moved.ESPN reached out to a dozen fans from different teams. All of them have 2021-22 partial and full season-ticket plans. They all stated that they had not heard from their ticket representatives about the possibility of changing to a different schedule.One Dallas Stars season-ticket holder stated that the schedule was presented "as if it were the final schedule."Many of these tickets already include games. Sometimes, the fans decide which games they will attend. Other times, teams choose the visiting opponents. The Boston Bruins, for example, have a plan that includes preselected games. Two half-season plans are available for the expansion Seattle Kraken. One includes the first home regular-season game in franchise history, and one does not.Even if Olympic participation has not been finalized, some NHL teams plan to sell single-game tickets. ESPN was told by one team that they would only sell tickets for October's home games as it is the least affected by the switch to the second schedule. The Columbus Blue Jackets will, however, begin selling single-ticket tickets for the entire season on August 20.Uncertainty surrounding the Olympics has created a problem: Teams aren’t able market special events to ticket buyers.ESPN did not survey any fans to find out if they had received the 2021-22 promotional calendar. This includes giveaways of bobbleheads and magnetic calendars, and games that welcome certain groups to the arena. Because rescheduling can be complicated, those dates are not yet set. These nights are sponsorship activations so there will be additional negotiation involved in moving them. They have not been scheduled by most NHL teams yet.Some teams had to coordinate events that required special coordination. The Stars, for example, announced that they would be retiring Hall of Fame defenseman Sergei Zubov as their No. 56 on January 28, 2022 to make it possible for Zubov and his family, as well as former teammates, to attend.Beyond ticket sales, there are ripple effects. Teams had to plan travel using two options for scheduling.One NHL team booked all of the travel for the Olympic break. If the NHL decides not to travel, its travel managers would need to "replicate this work again" in order to create a revised schedule.Others have tried to book both schedules but ran into problems on Plan B schedule. Hotels have requested nonrefundable deposits and sometimes up to 50 room reservations. In case the team from the Eastern Conference needs to change the dates, it has requested clauses in the road hotel contracts. In at least one instance, the hotel only agreed if it had the right to first refuse the rescheduled dates because of occupancy concerns.Local broadcasters also feel the effects. If a town has multiple teams, most regional sports networks will carry multiple teams. RSNs reached out to the teams inquiring about Olympic participation and awaiting the final decision.The regular-season schedule is an intricate task, as it is for every season. The NHL's schedule-makers, Steve Hatze Petros (who leads them all), were praised by team executives. They have put together an 82-game schedule each season. Schedulers receive requests from teams to create dates based on travel dates and build availabilities. Perhaps their most difficult season was building two parallel schedules.A team executive responsible for arena operations said that "this year, every building has such a demand for every date for the rescheduled shows." He stated that acts who have booked their arena know that the NHL team is priority and that until Olympic participation has been confirmed, there will still be a possibility that their dates may have to be changed.Although changing schedules can cause chaos for teams prior to the start of the regular season, it has become the norm for them in the past two seasons. The COVID pandemic cut short the 2019-20 season. In 2020-21, the 56-game season was continually interrupted by postponements due positive test results."If this happened three years ago, all of us would be crying." One NHL executive said that despite all the delays and cancellations we've endured over the past 18 months, they're not so upset about it. "If you need to change, then you must change."