NHL announces 2020/21 season to officially face off on Jan. 13th

The NHL officially announced that the league will face off for the 2020/21 season on January 13th with each of the 31 clubs playing a condensed schedule of 56 games which ends on May 8th. The league and NHL Players’ Association came to an agreement and made the announcement on Dec. 20th and said the schedule and safety protocols will soon be released.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated that there are plenty of challenges ahead and the league will continue to prioritize the safety and health of all participants during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Training camps will begin on Jan. 3rd with no preseason contests being scheduled. However the seven clubs which didn’t participate in the 24-team 2019/20 postseason this summer will be allowed to open training camps on Dec. 31st.

The 31 teams will be realigned into four divisions with the top four teams in each division making the playoffs. Each division will then hold best-of-seven playoff series with the first-place team playing the fourth and the second-place team meeting the third-place side to determine a division winner. The four division winners will then play off in two semifinal series for the Stanley Cup with the teams being seeded on points and the first playing the fourth with the second playing the third. The postseason is expected to wrap up in mid-July with the 2021/22 NHL season then returning to normal by beginning in October as usual.

With the American-Canadian border still supposedly closed and quarantine rules still in place, the seven Canadian teams will make up one division with the American-based teams making up the other three. This allows all teams to play the regular season in their own country. In addition, teams will only play other squads within their own division to reduce travel. The clubs in the East, West and Central Divisions will play each other eight times with the Canadian squads in the North Division playing each other nine or 10 times each.

Each team is expected to play its home games in their own arena with no fans in attendance. This could eventually change though depending on regional rules and regulations regarding fans. In addition, if local rules prohibit teams from playing in their own home rinks, they may have to play games at a neutral site. For example, if the Vancouver Canucks don’t receive permission to play in British Columbia, the club may need to play it’s home contests elsewhere.

The East Division will consist of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals with the Central Division being made up of the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The West Division will feature the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights while the North Division will see the Canadian teams the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets playing each other. This is the first time the NHL has featured an Canada division since the 1937/38 campaign.

NHL franchises drop in value in 2020

Like most professional sports league around the world, the NHL took it on the chin financially in 2020 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, some of the league’s 31 clubs absorbed more of a financial loss than others. The teams that ended the year in better were those with strong local broadcasting radio and television deals.

Since fans weren’t allowed in arenas once the league placed its schedule on hold in mid-March it meant teams had to do without critical cash revenue from ticket, sponsorship, parking and concession sales. Of course, the same thing was true during the summer months when the postseason took place inside of bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

This meant the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t able to cash in on their long playoff run which resulted in the franchise’s second Stanley Cup championship. In comparison, the previous two cup winners, the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues raked in approximately $20 million each in their postseason runs.

The NHL ended up playing 85 per cent of its scheduled 82-game regular season with fans in attendance in 2019/20 and it looks like just 56 contests will be played by each squad in 2020/21. However, the question of spectators being allowed in arenas is still up in the air.. at least for the start of the campaign, which the NHL hopes will face off in mid-January.

The financial fallout of the pandemic-plagued 2019/20 season has resulted in the average NHL franchise losing two per cent of its value compared to the previous year. The average club value, which was recently announced by Forbes magazine, has declined to $653 million. This represents the first drop in value for the average club since 2001.

Revenue for the league totalled $4.4 billion for 2019/20 which was a 14 per cent decrease from 2018/19 while operating income fell 68 per cent to just $250 million. Twenty-five per cent of the NHL’s revenue last season came from just five teams, which happen to be the five most valuable in the league.

According to Forbes, the New York Rangers top this list with a value of $1.65 billion followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs at $1.5 billion, the Montreal Canadiens at $1.34 billion, the Chicago Blackhawks at $1.085 billion and the Boston Bruins at an even $1 billion. All of these clubs enjoy profitable local broadcasting deals which in part helps make up for the league’s less-than-impressive national broadcasting contract.

The NHL’s national deals with Canadian and American broadcasters saw each club earn $20 million last season while NFL clubs were each paid $260 million per team due to the NFL’s national broadcasting deals. The Montreal Canadiens local broadcasting contracts were worth over $50 million last year with Toronto making fore than $40 million and the New York Rangers approximately $35 million.

In total, it’s estimated the league missed out over $200 million in postseason revenue by playing in bubble arenas without fans this summer and fall. In addition, the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players’ association sees the revenue split evenly at 50 per cent. However, the league planned on 2019/20 revenue to reach approximately $5.4 billion and didn’t hold enough back in escrow from players’ salaries to guarantee a 50 per cent split. This resulted in the players receiving more than 50 per cent of the revenue.

Forbes reported that nine of 31 NHL teams lost at least $10 million in operating income in 2019/20 which was an increase over the five teams that lost double-digit figures the previous season. The New York Islanders reportedly lost the most at $37.9 million even though the franchise’s value remained the same at $520 million. Hopefully things will pick up for the club though in 2021/22 when it moves to a new home arena.

The average team debt in 2020 is listed at $144 million compared to $127 million in 2019 and those losses are expected to continue in 2020/21.

The following is Forbes’ list of the NHL’s franchises, their 2020 value and operating income or loss in U.S. dollars:

  1. New York Rangers: $1.65 billion-Operating Income: $87 million
  2. Toronto Maple Leafs: $1.5 billion-Operating Income: $56.3 million
  3. Montreal Canadiens: $1.34 billion-Operating Income: $86.5 million
  4. Chicago Blackhawks: $1.085 billion-Operating Income: $45.3 million
  5. Boston Bruins: $1 billion-Operating Income: $26.8 million
  6. Los Angeles Kings: $825 million-Operating Income: $45.3 million
  7. Philadelphia Flyers: $800 million-Operating Income: $7.9 million
  8. Detroit Red Wings: $775 million-Operating Income: $31.2 million
  9. Washington Capitals: $750 million-Operating Income: $7.7 million
  10. Vancouver Canucks: $725 million-Operating Income: $2.9 million
  11. Pittsburgh Penguins: $650 million-Operating Income: $14 million
  12. Dallas Stars: $575 million-Operating Income: $4.5 million
  13. Vegas Golden Knights: $570 million-Operating Income: $13.9 million
  14. Edmonton Oilers: $550 million-Operating Income: $16.9 million
  15. New Jersey Devils: $530 million-Operating Income: $4.1 million
  16. New York Islanders: $520 million-Operating Income: -$37.9 million
  17. San Jose Sharks: $515 million-Operating Income: –$14.7 million
  18. St Louis Blues: $510 million-Operating Income: –$8.2 million
  19. Minnesota Wild: $500 million-Operating Income: –$6.2 million
  20. Calgary Flames: $480 million-Operating Income: $400,000
  21. Tampa Bay Lightning: $470 million-Operating Income: –$8.3 million
  22. Colorado Avalanche: $465 million-Operating Income: –$10 million
  23. Anaheim Ducks: $460 million-Operating Income: –$9.1 million
  24. Carolina Hurricanes: $440 million-Operating Income:–$15 million
  25. Nashville Predators: $435 million-Operating Income: –$13.4 million
  26. Ottawa Senators: $430 million-Operating Income: –$2.9 million
  27. Winnipeg Jets: $405 million-Operating Income: –$7.6 million
  28. Buffalo Sabres: $385 million-Operating Income:–$10.9 million
  29. Columbus Blue Jackets: $310 million-Operating Income: –$10.3 million
  30. Florida Panthers: $295 million-Operating Income: –$28.9 million
  31. Arizona Coyotes: $285 million-Operating Income: –$17 million



2020/21 NHL season pushed back again

While the NBA is set to tip off its 2020/21 season just before Christmas, the NHL still doesn’t have a starting date set in stone. League commissioner Gary Bettman had hoped to see the 31 teams back on the ice for the new campaign by January 1st but that isn’t going to happen. Bettman recently announced that things are progressing but a mid-January date is now more realistic.

He also stated that players’ health is the most important thing and with North America suffering through a second wave of Covid-19 cases, the league is willing to take it’s time before deciding on an official starting date. When and if the season does get underway, fans should expect a condensed schedule of 52 or 56 games. This will enable the NHL to wrap up the Stanley Cup Finals before the start of the 20201 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

The league and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) have met recently and will soon have to agree to a starting date since clubs will need to hold preseason training camps and get in an exhibition game or two. In addition, the seven teams which didn’t take part in the 2019/20 postseason may be given permission to hold an earlier and longer training camp. With a mid-January start to the season, training camps would be required to start very early in the month.

Some clubs, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings,   have considered playing their home games on outdoor rinks in 2020/21. In the case of Anaheim and Los Angeles, both teams could share the Dignity Health Sports Park which is a 27,000-seat stadium used by the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS soccer. The venue is owned by the Anshutz Entertainment Group, which also owns the Kings and is located just 15 miles away from the club’s home rink, the Staples Center.

This is an option which could be further explored down the road if fans or more fans are allowed in outdoor venues compared to indoor locations. Of course, the NHLPA would have to agree to it as well as local governments. The Bruins could possibly play at Fenway Park, the home of MLB’s Boston Red Sox while the Penguins could consider using Heinz Field where the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers play or PNC Park, where MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates play.

However, as other professional sports have shown, it could be possible for a limited number of fans to attend NHL games. Several MLB baseball, MLS soccer and NFL football stadiums have allowed a certain number of spectators to view games along with boxing cards. However, government rules and regulations regarding public gatherings varies from state to state and in some cases, city to city.

On the bright side, Bettman believes the upcoming Covid-19 vaccines will mean fans should be able to return to arenas in full force for the 2021/22 season when the Seattle Kraken will join the NHL as an expansion franchise. The commissioner said the league wants to return to normal in 2021/22 with the season facing off in early October as usual.

Before this season begins though, the NHL and NHLPA need to sort out a few issues including salary deferral and escrow as well as temporarily realigning the divisions to suit the current Covid-19 travel and quarantine restrictions. This means it’s highly likely that an all-Canadian division will be created since the US-Canadian border is supposedly closed to non-essential travel.

Things could change once again though with Christmas and New Year’s approaching since these holidays could result in another spike of Covid-19 cases. However, many nations will soon begin vaccination programs and this could help combat the virus.

Florida Panthers hope to end playoff losing drought in 2020/21

It’s been close to a quarter of a century since the Florida Panthers have won an NHL playoff series and it’s a drought the club is anxious to put a halt in 2020/21. The franchise has made several on and off-ice moves during the current offseason to address the streak of futility but only time will tell how successful they were.

To start with, longtime general manager Dale Tallon was released on September 2nd and replaced with Bill Zito who formerly worked with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The club then made NHL history by hiring 39-year-old Brett Peterson as the league’s first African-American assistant general manager and also named former Ulf Samuelsson as an assistant coach.

The 56-year-old Samuelsson of Sweden has 15 years of coaching experience in the AHL, NHL and in his homeland and won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a player in 1990/91 and 1991/92. He also holds the record for most NHL penalty minutes by a Swedish-born player with 2,453.

As well as hiring Peterson and Samuelsson, new GM Zito has brought in several players in hopes of changing the team’s attitude and vibe for the upcoming season. The biggest move was acquiring two-time Stanley Cup-winning forward Patric Hornqvist from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for rearguard Mike Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour.

Hornqvist helped the Penguins win the Cup in 2015/16 and 2016/17 and has racked up 238 goals and 242 assists for 480 points in his NHL career so far in 770 regular-season contests with Pittsburgh and the Nashville Predators. He’s also added 25 goals and 21 helpers for 46 points in 90 playoff outings. In addition, the Panthers signed forward Alexander Wennberg to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million after his contract was bought out by Columbus.

Unrestricted forward Carter Verhaeghe was signed for two years at $2 million after winning the Stanley Cup with Tampa this year and rugged defenceman Radko Gudas inked a three-year deal worth $7.5 million after leaving the Washington Capitals. Zito also signed Vinnie Hinostroza for a year at $1 million after being let go by the Arizona Coyotes.

However, the Panthers also lost quite a bit of offence in the offseason as the club didn’t re-sign Mike Hoffman and fellow free-agent forward Evgenii Dadonov jumped ship and signed with the Ottawa Senators for three years for $15 million. Hoffman led Florida with 29 goals in 69 outings last season while Dadonov chipped in with 25 goals and 22 assists for 47 points in 69 games.

Hornqvist will be depended on to replace some of the void left by Hoffman and Dadanov’s departures and the team will also need big seasons from Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov who posted 78 and 62 points respectively last season. Zito told the media he is looking for his players to compete on a nightly basis and wants them to approach their jobs in a professional and business-like manner. Most of all, he claimed he wants players on the squad that hate to lose and are hard to play against.

Most Panthers’ fans believed the club had turned the corner last year when three-time Stanley Cup-winner Joel Quenneville took over as head coach and unrestricted free agent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was signed to a seven-year deal from Columbus. Things didn’t really improve too much though as the team went 35-26-8 for a points percentage of .565 during the regular season. They managed to make the postseason but were ousted in five games by the New York Islanders in the best-of-five qualifying round.

Bobrovsky struggled in net during his first campaign with the Panthers by posting a 23-19-6 record with a 90.0 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.23 in 50 games. This is one of the reasons Zito brought in the physical Gudas to help strengthen the blue line. Gudas posted just 15 points in 63 games in 2019/20 but dished out 124 hits to rank 12th among rearguards in the league.

Quenneville believes the club is on the right track by bringing in hard-working, competitive players and feels the roster is filled with players who will stand up for one another. He added that he thinks they’ll help produce a winning environment but admitted the expectations will be raised as well next season.

In the meantime, Florida fans will continue to hope that the next time the team wins a playoff set it will be a good omen since the last time they took won a series they also won the Stanley Cup.