Start date and length of next NHL season still up in the air

When the puck will drop to the 2020/21 NHL season and exactly how long it will last is still anybody’s guess. The league announced it is looking at January 1st as a possible season-opening date but it’s too early to tell if it’s going to be realistic. If teams can hit the ice by New Year’s Day, it’s possible that a full 82-game schedule could be played. But the longer the league waits to get going the shorter the campaign will likely be.

The main reason for this is because the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan are scheduled to begin on July 23rd. With the NBC network televising NHL games in America as well as the Olympics, an overlap isn’t really feasible unless NHL games are broadcast on a delayed basis. Therefore, if the season doesn’t get underway until February, fans may see a shortened schedule of anywhere from 48 to 60 regular-season games before the playoffs.

Of course, the uncertainty is due to Covid-19 and the ever-changing rules and regulations that come with the virus. Currently, it looks like the Canadian clubs may remain in their own nation and play each other in a seven-team division. Much like MLS soccer and Major League Baseball, Canadian teams aren’t likely to be flying in and out of the USA until things change drastically.

This isn’t written in stone though since current 14-day quarantine periods for those crossing the border could be relaxed in the near future due to the introduction of rapid Covid-19 testing at certain airports. If arriving players can be tested when landing then cross-border travel will become a more reasonable option. Clubs would be able to safely visit other cities to play. However, common sense would see teams playing at least two games when visiting another city before moving on to the next nearby town.

For instance, if the Los Angeles Kings head to the New York area, they could play two games each against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers etc. before taking off again. The same scenario would take place in other areas of North America where teams are based in the same geographical region such as Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

The only thing that is guaranteed for the 2020/21 season is that the Winter Classic game in Minnesota on New Year’s Day won’t be taking place and neither will the All-Star weekend in Florida later in the month. And as far as fans go, it’s possible some NHL rinks may allow a certain number to attend games in person, much like MLS and MLB stadiums have recently been doing.

Right now, the NHL is evaluating all scenarios and monitoring the Covid-19 situation across North America. This includes travel restrictions and government guidelines and how they affect public gatherings. The best-case scenario for the league would see all major airports open rapid-testing stations for arriving flights to eliminate or shorten the current 14-day mandatory quarantine requirements.

As far as the other North American hockey leagues are concerned, the American Hockey League hopes to begin on December 4th while the East Coast Hockey League plans on having some teams face off for the first time on December 11th with the rest of the clubs joining in on January 15th. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is already underway while the Ontario Hockey League has pencilled in December 1st as the opening day and the Western Hockey League is looking at January 8th.

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