Along with giving an update on the status of Zdeno Chara, Bruins President Cam Neely touched on a number of other subjects during his Zoom call with the media on Monday — including the potential of fans returning to TD Garden later this season, any last-minute moves in the final weeks of the offseason and much more.
Fans in stands at TD Garden?
Given the current COVID climate and the health restrictions put in place by state and local governments, it seems like a given the Bruins will take to the ice in an empty TD Garden to open the 2021 season when games commence on Jan. 13. But whether it be Neely or Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, it appears as though all parties involved are holding out hope that fans will eventually be able to return to Causeway Street and fill the B's barn at some point before the end of this current season.
"Well, we're certainly hoping for a full house at some point this year," Neely said. "I mean, when that is, I don't know, is it going to be in May, June, July — it's hard to say. Are we going to get fans in the building at some point in January? I'm not sure. February? It's out of our control. But we have made plans for no fans, a third of fans, half fans, three quarters and then a full house."
The potential of fans slowly filling out the bowl (likely still in a socially distanced setting) for Bruins and Celtics games will revolve around the success of a vaccine rollout program, which could begin doling out doses to an expanded grouping beyond healthcare workers, the elderly and more high-risk individuals by the tail-end of the winter.
"As far as fans in the building, that's going to be dependent upon state and city regulations and guidelines," Neely said. "I know that the staff here at the Garden has done a lot of work behind the scenes to make it as fan friendly as possible, as safe as possible when we are allowed to have fans in here to make sure that they’ve gone through all the protocols. The safety is obviously of the utmost importance for us. So a lot of work's been done so when we do get the green light to have fans in the building everybody should be comfortable to come in and watch our games being played live."
Even though we could be a few months away from a couple thousand fans gaining entrance to the Garden, the venue has already mapped out safety protocols and revamped systems designed to minimize contact between individuals upon entering the arena. Yes, a scenario in which the Bruins are hosting a playoff game in front of ... 7,500 fans? 10,000 fans? 15,000 fans ... is far from a certainty, but the Bruins are already putting the plans in place to facilitate such a development if clearer skies emerge on the horizon in 2021.
"It's really entering the building, how to enter the building six feet apart, how to go up escalators six feet apart, where do the fans sit depending on if it's a family, restrooms are certainly outfitted for protection, same with ordering concessions, it's not standing up there waiting in line, it's ordering online and then you're told where to go pick it up," Neely said. "So, it's really everything you can think of to help protect the fans once they're in the building."
No outdoor games for Bruins
As for the possibility of the Bruins opening the 2021 season with a slate of outdoor games, don't count on it — according to Neely.
"We looked at that it and really unless you can get a certain number of fans in a building, it didn't really seem to make sense financially," Neely said. "It's a big undertaking getting the system outdoors to play on, so we looked at it hard, but it looked like it was the best course for us to stick to playing at the TD Garden for now."
Even though exploring the possibility of playing a few games at Fenway Park or Harvard Stadium would have been a good way to drum up interest for a new NHL campaign (as well as potentially open the door for some fans to attend in an outdoor venue), the undertaking of both gaining proper approval from the state and spending millions to set up a league-sanctioned outdoor rink with quality conditions always seemed far too daunting.