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NHL media remain in flux while awaiting finalized coverage plans ahead of restart

With the NHL getting closer to announcing the hub cities which will host this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, broadcasters and print journalists still have questions about how they will cover the tournament.

Last month, the NHL unveiled plans for a 24-team tournament to be played in two cities. The league was forced to pause the season on March 12, with 189 games remaining, due to concerns about COVID-19.

Rob Corte, vice president of Sportsnet and NHL Production, said many of the tournament’s details – especially those related to the media – still haven’t been finalized.

“Part of the challenge is, there’s been so many different ideas and potential ways to do this,” Corte said. “We’ve been having so many discussions, and when you think you’re moving in a certain direction, then about 10 more questions come up that actually disqualify everything you have been thinking before.

“That’s probably been the frustrating part.”

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Print journalists are also waiting to learn how they will go about their jobs.

“We have been told there has been no determination made yet in terms of media access and what that may or may not look like,” Frank Seravalli, president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, said in an email. “The situation remains in flux.”

Only production staff allowed in bubble

As part of the NHL’s plan, all players, coaches and support staff will be confined to a bubble. The games will be played in arenas without fans.

Corte said the current plan is for no commentators to be allowed inside the bubble — only cameramen, technicians and production staff.

The broadcasts will be done like at an Olympics. A feed will be produced for each game and supplied to all the NHL rights holders. Sportsnet commentators will watch the games on monitors in Toronto, where a score bug and graphics will be added.

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Radio broadcasters will likely have to watch games off monitors as well.

Not being in the building, and having no crowds, presents challenges for the commentators, Corte said.

“It’s different,” he said. “A lot of the energy they draw is from within a building and the crowd. When you’re in an arena you see everything. There’s going to be things that will be missed or not seen just because it’s not available to their eyesight.”

No direct access to subjects

Media will have no direct access to players or team officials. Interviews with players and coaches will be done through video conference technology like Zoom.

“You’re not going to have reporters doing a scrum or anything like that,” Corte said.

Players might participate in between-period interviews through a camera stationed in a separate room.

On practices or off-days, selected players would be made available for video conferences.

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It still hasn’t been decided if games will be broadcast with fake crowd noise. Many English and European soccer league games are being shown with artificial noise.

“We’ve had lots of discussion with the National Hockey League and the other broadcasters and we haven’t landed on a decision,” Corte said. “There’s always going to be shots of the stands where you don’t see any people and you hear people cheering. Right away, that’s a visual cue that it’s not authentic.”

One possibility is showing the same game on different channels, one with crowd noise, and allowing fans to choose.

Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner to be named a hub city. The Canadian cities in the running are Edmonton and Toronto. The Vancouver Canucks announced Thursday the city was no longer being considered.

Other U.S. cities include Los Angeles and Chicago.

The different time zones could create scheduling programs. For a game to be shown at 1 p.m. in the east, it would have to be played at 10 a.m. in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, or 11 a.m. in Edmonton.

“Start times are a concern,” Corte said. “That’s something that we’re playing very close attention to and having a lot of conversations with the league. Nothing has been finalized yet.”

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