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.