By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s clear that the National Hockey League really, really, really wants to crown a 2020 Stanley Cup champion.
And with everything on the table for a league that paused with about 85 percent of its regular season finished, the league is giving serious consideration to beginning the 2020-21 season in December 2020, according to Pierre LeBrun.
Like previous plans centered around delaying next season to finish this season, a December start would mean wiping out every team’s bye week, the All-Star weekend, and essentially cramming 82 games into a tight-as-hell schedule that would allow you to crown a 2021 champion by the end of June, maybe even early July.
But the reasoning behind a December start, courtesy of LeBrun, is certainly sound.
Per LeBrun, the No. 1 reason behind this suggestion is the idea that nobody’s exactly sure when the NHL will be able to get back to work to finish 2019-20. But that they’re willing to go as deep as September (maybe even October) to let someone lift the Stanley Cup. The league would absolutely need to provide some sort of offseason to its stars if that were the case, and almost doubly so if the league plans on having an 82-game season in 2020-21. Anything less than a month and a half (at the very least) would be incredibly reckless. And that’s assuming the world is healthy enough to reopen.
LeBrun also noted that many teams feel as if they need to have fans in that building when the 2020-21 season kicks off, and perhaps December is the ideal target date for the league to start but more importantly earn their money. It’s hard to fault anybody on this front, to be honest. Empty-arena games will work for now — it feels like a necessary
evil precaution to have some sort of finality to these current seasons — but it’s hard to imagine this sticking as a multi-season experience.
So just how doable is this plan?
Well, let’s play a game of assumptions.
Assume that the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs will take about two months, as they typically do. Crowning a champion before July 1 would require a late-April or May 1 start date. So, let’s just assume that you need the regular season to end by Apr. 28 to ensure that you begin postseason play on May 1 (a nice Saturday kickoff). For reference here, keep in mind that the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Apr. 30 (the Bruins played the first game of their series on May 1) and ended on June 24. So, at least you have relatively recent experience to draw back on with this kind of schedule.
But let’s also assume that you have a December 1st start date and Apr. 28 end date. That would mean cramming 82 games into 148 days, or a game every 1.8 days. SHEESH. The 2013 lockout-delayed season, which featured 48 games in 99 days (a game every 2.06 days) but didn’t see teams leave their respective conference, didn’t even have a grind that arduous.
(It also screams a year full of groin and soft-tissue injuries, and I feel morally obligated to protect Patrice Bergeron from such atrocities. He’s a very nice man and doesn’t deserve this kind of scheduling. No one does.)
I should mention that this isn’t an exact science, obviously. I’m imposing deadlines and start dates that don’t exist. For all we know, the league could be willing to bleed its 2020-21 regular season into May and playing into the middle of July. But it feels as if the league has remained focused on sacrificing rest next season to finish this season, but the longer your 2021 postseason goes, the more you risk compromising the integrity of the next season, and so on and so forth.
It’s just not ideal.
Then again, in the eyes of the NHL, neither is punting on a season that was less a month away from the start of its postseason.