Baby Steps Being Taken Towards The Start Of Next Season, But Bigger Steps Are Coming Soon

By Ed Francis on October 21, 2020 at 7:20 am
When will Nationwide Arena see fans again? It may be quite a while.

When will the 2020-2021 NHL season start?

Not in 2020.

What will it look like?

Answers on that question are slowly starting to come into picture, and it may not be long before we start to have actual, tentative, planned, maybe permanent details on the 2020-21 2021 season 

After initially hoping for a December start to the season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has recently conceded that January is their new target start. While he is also on the record as stating that he hopes for a full 82 game schedule with fans in attendance, surging COVID-19 numbers across the United States (and the world) will likely put a wrinkle in those hopes. 

So where do things stand? Here's what we know, though, everything is subject to change in the time of Corona. 

  • A league source confirmed to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic that a "general framework" is in place between the NHL and the NHLPA, but of course, until both sides finalize the agreement, it is subject to change. 
  • For the first time since March, an official in-person general managers meeting is on the schedule. That will take place Friday, though it's worth noting that there have been unofficial calls between the GM's during the return-to-play planning earlier in the year.
  • Former Columbus Blue Jackets general manager and current AHL president Scott Howson told The Athletic that their tentative start date of December 4th is "probably going to get pushed." This is likely to be a hot topic during the GMs meeting, as many clubs have expressed an interest in getting their prospects on the ice. 

Unfortunately, however, there are far more unknowns than knowns. 

  • When will the season start? The NHL has not yet cancelled the Winter Classic, set for January 1st in Minneapolis. This is a clear indication that they are still targeting a January 1st start date, though, until an agreement is finalized, this date seems less and less likely.
  • How many games will the season be? Bettman wants 82. If the season were to start January 1st and teams were to play an average of every other day, the regular season would last 164 days. This puts us at a season end date of approximately June 13th, which will again carry the Stanley Cup playoffs deep into the summer. Rumblings of either a 48 or 60 game season have been mentioned, and seem far more realistic at this point. A 48 game season under the same approximation would last until early April, and a 60 game slate at the end of April. Either of those scenarios will see a Stanley Cup champion by the end of June. The Olympics are currently scheduled for July 2021 as well, and the NHL is on the record of desiring to conclude their season before the Tokyo games begin.
  • Will there be fans? Again, Bettman would like to see fans in attendance. And again, it's a question that can't be answered yet. Not only will each city, state, and country make their own guidelines, but a lot can change in ten weeks. Whether or not fans will be permitted inside Nationwide Arena - or any other venue - is likely a decision that will not be made until mid December, at the earliest. 
  • Will there be a bubble? Maybe. Prior to the NHL and the players' association officially agreeing to the aforementioned framework, they'll need to have a joint meeting. That joint meeting will include management from both sides, as well as several NHL players. That's when we're likely to get a resolution on whether or not there will be a bubble. That seems unnerving on the surface, but it sounds that they've already made a significant amount of progress on this, so it should be a formality by time the meeting takes place. 
  • Will divisions look different? They're at least considering it. Last week, Vegas Golden Knights Bill Foley told Vegas Hockey Hotline that the Vancouver Canucks are "going to be in the Canadian division." Whether or not he meant for that to slip, it's out there, and given the border restrictions by both the United States and Canada, an all Canada division - at least to start the season - seems highly likely. 

Friday should begin, at least internally, to provide some clarity. 

(For now.)

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