With hopes that the NHL’s announcement, via Commissioner Gary Bettman at the 2020 NHL Draft can become reality, planning has begun for what a kickoff to the 2020 – 2021 season could look like on January 1st, 2021. Of course, there are already several changes already, a halt to play in March of this year as the Covid Pandemic began to spread resulted in a 4-month pause in all games, along with practice and team gatherings. It took until August for play to resume, and that was after the final games of the regular 2019 – 2020 season were scrapped, taking 24 teams straight to the playoffs. The Stanley Cup was then given to the Tampa Bay Lighting who beat the Dallas Stars in 6 games. From there we went into an NHL Draft, held in October, late compared to the original July date.
Currently, we are in the off season, taking place when the regular 2020 – 2021 season would have been well under way. So, what will this next season look like, after such astronomical changes to the end of the previous? We are beginning to see it take shape. Covid still rages on and is continuing to spread rapidly in many of the 50 U. S. states, so this will absolutely play a factor in the overall plan. The idea of a hub city or two, like that we saw for the 2019 – 2020 playoffs has been dismissed, that will not happen. However, the idea may happen on a smaller scale Commissioner Bettman has offered to ESPN (https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/30293981/realignment-potential-another-hub-model-table-nhl-commissioner-gary-bettman-says) The approach considered is one of tradeoff, you have a week break between a week or two of several back-to-back games, allowing professional and family life. Testing will take place before the team comes back to begin play and, if needed, before returning home as well. Another option the NHL is playing with is a scenario where teams can be in a bubble part time and also at home in their own arena part time. This hybrid option could allow for safety and also some normalcy this season. The hope of the NHL is to make the season more logical, as travel restrictions could still be in place for both the U. S. and also Canada, even as January 2021 rolls around.
A main goal in all of this is to have a plan in play to keep players, coaches and all staff safe, just as in the post season hub playoff over this recent summer. The Arena’s the NHL plays in are not just for that teams use, but rather shared, among those who also use them is the NBA. That sport association just settled on a plan for it’s 2020 – 2021 season, starting just three days before Christmas on December 22, they will have limited fans and also a reduced season of games before playoffs begin. The NHL season could be quite similar, but some good news from all of this, a chance for some fans to be at live games again! Testing protocols and the amount of available seats per game are subject to the states rule, but furthering the idea of playing in a teams region, and in controlled environments’ as those given in the plans above, gives a better chance of this becoming a reality. In theory, the idea of not traveling to all team stadiums reduces risk, if one NHL region has a Covid outbreak, only that region is exposed and thus quarantined. This means teams that are not affected can continue playing, and that section can become well, then catch up once it is safe to resume play. A smart tactic I believe other sports may follow through with, if future seasons require Covid pandemic action plans and restrictions.
It is nice to have this small glimpse inside the minds of the NHL’s top leaders. I know just from my group of family and friends we’ve all been excited to hear, or see, any details of what may come of this next season. The idea of knowing plans are being made gives us something to look forward to in these still uncertain times. Hockey will return, it’s just a matter of when and how best to do it safely for all involved, from the commissioner, to the Zamboni driver, to the fans, NHL Nation is ready to cheer again!