NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, had exciting news for hockey fans on October 6th, minutes before the 2020 NHL draft kicked off. Bettman announced that the NHL's tentative start date for the next season would be January 1st, 2021, barring any unfortunate developments in regards to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now, over a month later, with the NBA's opening night set for December 22nd, hockey fans are left in the dark, wondering when we'll have a true start date to our season. We have had some sprinkles of news here and there, but nothing solid. Here is what we know about the 2020-21 NHL season up to this point.
One of the first updates that hockey fans received after the conclusion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, was that the NHL's front office was playing around with the idea of realigning the divisions. As of right now, the United States-Canadian border still remains closed, and it appears as if it isn't opening anytime soon. The possibility of an American based NHL team crossing the border to play a Canadian team is slim, and it likely won't happen this season. Pictured below is what a possible 2020-21 divisional realignment could look like.
At quick glance, this feels a little bit disappointing. No Boston/Montreal rivalry matchups? No Islanders' fans getting the chance to call John Tavares "pajama boy" and chant "we don't need you!" at him? It'll all take a little bit of getting used to. But think about all of the other rivalries that could be renewed or even be born from this realignment! The Rangers, Islanders, Devils rivalry, the Flyers/Penguins rivalry, the Oilers/Flames rivalry, Kings/Ducks, Canadiens/Maple Leafs, all of which are some of the most violent and bitter rivalries in the history of hockey. With all of those teams playing in the same division, we have the chance to see some dramatic playoff pushes, fights, and compelling storylines... The list goes on and on.
Short-term hubs are a possibility
So, this one confused me when I first heard about it, which prompted me to read up on the topic a bit more. My understanding of the concept, basically, is that the NHL wants to have the old fashioned home ice advantage play a factor in more games, something that was desperately missing from the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble's of Toronto and Edmonton. However, the league wants to be responsible with how frequently their teams travel, so they have explored the idea of implementing short-term hubs, where teams would rotate in and out of arenas within their division, and play the span of 10-12 games, then send the teams back home for a week or so while the NHL puts players and staff through COVID tests, before setting them back out onto the ice. I know, still a little bit confusing. I myself am still trying to wrap my head around the idea, and it might not work out. But it's still in the early stages of development, give it some time.
A 48-game season
According to ESPN's Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, sources have confirmed that the NHL won't consider anything less than a 48-game season. At only slightly over halfway through a regular 82 game season, hockey fans were disappointed that the number was so low. But the good news is that we'll get at least 48 games, which means there's a possibility we could see more. The NHL is trying to get back on track as fast as they possibly can, and playing an 82 game season that doesn't start until January would put them behind schedule for the 2021-22 season. So in order for us to get a full slate of hockey a year from now, the 2020-21 season has to act as the sacrificial lamb, especially since the Seattle Kraken are set to debut the following season.
Some owners want to skip the season
Once again, ESPN's Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski have the inside scoop. According to Kaplan and Wyshynski, multiple team owners have voiced their concern over losing money as stadiums continue to sit empty, and some owners are even going as far as to say that they would benefit financially from skipping the 2020-21 season altogether. ESPN hasn't divulged which owners were vocal about this idea. However, they did report that Commissioner Gary Bettman was very much against the argument, claiming that cancelling the season would do more long term damage to the growth of the game, and he's 100% right. The 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled due to a labor dispute, and it took the league years to recover from the unfortunate event.
NHL wants fans in the arenas
According to an NHL source, "I think the ultimate goal is to end up with fans in the arenas. I don't think we'll get to capacity, but I think we'll have enough socially distanced fans." With the NFL allowing fans in some stadiums, and the MLB allowing people in during the playoffs, I see no reason for the NHL to not allow fans to attend games in person. It is a touchy subject, and some may disagree with me, but as long as masks are worn and fans are seated every 3-4 seats away, people should have the right to make their own decision regarding whether they want to risk going to a game or not.
Hopefully Gary Bettman and the NHL can send some good news our way soon, not knowing when I'll ever get to watch a hockey game again is weighing heavy on my heart.
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