NHL 2020-21 seasons picture still hazy


NHL start of 2020-2021 season questionable Image: NHL

The National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner, Gary Bettman, is keen on starting the 2020-21 seasons from December 1st, and to play a full, 82-game regular-season schedule, followed by four best-of-seven playoff rounds.

However, Bettman acknowledged during a press conference recently that COVID-19 – which is still packing a punch – could prevent the league from getting the next season underway by its target date. He also said that there is no guarantee that a full season would be possible.

The 2019-20 NHL season concluded last week with the win of the professional ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning. The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars, 2-0, more than two months after they entered the NHL bubble in Toronto, to leave Edmonton as the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup finals.

The National Hockey League is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The NHL is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in United States and Canada.

Bettman further stated, “I will not be surprised if it slips into later December. It could slip into January, but there’s no point right now in making any definitive comments on our plans, because there’s still too much that we don’t know.”

“Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between the United States and Canada is going to be open by a (specific) date. Nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be. Nobody can tell me whether or not our arenas will be able to have either socially distanced or fully occupied buildings. We’re going to have to do the same thing we did to get ready for the Return to Play (plan for the current playoffs): Explore all the options. Be flexible and agile enough to implement when the appropriate time comes,” he observed.

NHL clubs are hugely dependent on gate revenues, so whether fans are allowed to attend games – and how many are permitted to do so – could have a bearing on when the next season will begin.

Bettman submitted a scenario, which he presented as a spur-of-the-moment thought, under which the season could begin with empty venues, then graduate to boasting crowds of limited size and, finally, regular attendance.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, “Whatever is safe for the health and safety of everybody involved in our game is always our foremost priority. Obviously, we’re going to be very familiar with the local (crowd size) restrictions and local health authority rules. We sometimes impose even stricter rules, if it’s the opinion of our medical advisors that we should do so.”

Though public health comes first, the financial health of some franchises could also become a matter of concern, too, if crowds are not allowed to enter the stadium fold for an extended period. However, Bettman was hopeful that no team would have their survival put in jeopardy due to pandemic-related problems.

“The only good news in this context is that the ownership of the 31 – soon to be 32 (when Seattle joins in 2021-22) – NHL franchises has never been stronger and healthier. And while nobody has any revenue coming in right now and owners are obviously writing checks to cover overhead and expenses, our franchises will get through this and will come out stronger on the other side,” Bettman asserted.

“Yes, there will be a revenue hit. It’s no secret that attendance, directly and indirectly, impacts at least 50 percent of our revenues. … (Attendance) will determine how much the shortfall is, off of where we were and off of where we were projecting. While we know it will be less – we know there’s a substantial revenue impact – I’m comfortable that our franchises will be strong enough to weather this,” he added.

Now that Tampa Bay Lighting has walked away with the Stanley Cup, the focus will surely shift to 2020-21, even though the picture is still very hazy. And this might continue for quite a while.

“Anything that anybody suggests or reads or writes or commentates about next season is nothing more than speculation. Well, there is one thing that seems certain, even if it remains entirely aspirational. Our goal is to get back to as great a sense of normalcy as possible. Under whatever circumstances are presented,” Bettman remarked.

  • Forget goals and assists and save percentages, here’s the most remarkable statistic to come out of this postseason: Bettman said the league has administered more than 31,000 COVID-19 tests to players and team staffers and had zero positive results;
  • Don’t look for the league to expand the playoff field beyond 16 teams in future seasons, even though it had 24 participate this year –“I’ve never been a fan of expanding the playoffs. I still believe that what we have, in a normal year, is the right way to go,” Bettman remarked;
  • Daly said the league has been willing to schedule games in a series on consecutive days throughout these playoffs because of the “hub City” setup that means there is “no travel, a lot less wear-and-tear on the players”. Outside of what happens on the ice, of course; and
  • Bettman said that if the Winter Classic, scheduled for January 1st at Target Field in Minneapolis (US) has to be called off because of the start of the season being pushed back, the league “will make good on it in some fashion” for Minnesota, which is to play host to the game.

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