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NHL looking to stage virtual draft in early June

Jack Hughes smiles after being selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada (Credit: Getty Images)

The National Hockey League is pushing its teams to stage a fully virtual draft in early June before the 2019-20 season ends, according to a memo sent out by deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

The NHL would be following in the footsteps of the National Football League and Women’s National Basketball Association which both recently staged successful virtual drafts.

According to ESPN, the NHL is targeting June 5 for the draft, which was originally scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but was postponed due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Daly says in the memo that both NBC and Sportsnet, the league’s broadcast partners, “are enthusiastically in favor of an early draft.” He added: “We think it’s a great opportunity for fan engagement. Fans have been missing NHL hockey for a month and a half. It’ll be three months when we get to June.”

The matter is due to be discussed by teams this week but there are several issues to be addressed, namely how the lottery teams will be determined and the format of draft-day trades.

“There are complications,” Daly told CHED Radio in Edmonton. “There’s no perfect solution. We think there are benefits to having the draft in June, including the fact that it’s a necessary piece of league business that has to transpire at some point and time, and our clubs are as ready for it now as they would be at any other time — and probably better prepared than they would be in the fall.”

The NHL remains on an indefinite hiatus due to the global Covid-19 pandemic but is making provisional arrangements to resume action soon, including potentially playing at four or five regional arenas across North America.

Daly believes that staging a draft in a shortened offseason before the start of the 2020-21 season, possibly in December, would be a big ask. “We don’t want to have a situation where we’re shoehorning a draft lottery or a draft into a very short window of time, which we may be faced with,” he said.

In the absence of competition, the NHL created the esports “NHL Player Gaming Challenge” in an attempt to stay relevant and keep fans engaged amid the coronavirus crisis.

Further reading: New Jersey Devils looking to leverage arrivals of Subban and Hughes