2020-21 NHL season will be 82 games, but could start as late as January
By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The world may be anything but for the foreseeable future, but Gary Bettman is committed to getting the National Hockey League back to its closest semblance of normalcy in 2020-21.
“I anticipate playing a full season next season; 82 games, full playoffs,” Bettman offered. “How and when we do that is something we don’t all have enough information to make any decisions and anything would be just sheer speculation.”
And with a summertime postseason inside the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, the NHL originally circled December 2020 as a projected start date for next season. That may be on the table with the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning scheduled to go no later than Sept. 30, but Bettman noted that a potential “slip into January” remains on the table.
In fact, everything remains on the table.
“There’s no point in making definitive comments on our plans because there’s still too much we don’t know,” said Bettman. “Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States is going to be open by a certain 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.”
It will be interesting to see how everything breaks down when the NHL has a greater idea of their situation for next season. There’s been rumors of an all-Canada division should the border between Canada and the U.S. remain closed, and it’ll be worth watching to see if the NHL will want to go with a 2020 MLB-style, regional-based schedule that limits travel. There’s also the difficulty of condensing 82 games into a timeframe that keeps the NHL out of the heart of summer, which seems to be a point of emphasis for the NHL.
“My preference would be to stay out of summer as much as possible,” Bettman admitted. “Our fans typically like watching us through the fall, winter and into the spring and it’s always been a goal to be done by the end of June. Playing late July, August, September is something that was important to do now and if we can avoid it we will, but again it’s premature to have an answer to that question other than we understand the issue and we’re going to try and deal with it as best we can.”
Bettman isn’t the only one that wants to keep the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs out of the summer. With the 2020 Olympics moved to 2021, the last thing NBC, owns the TV rights to both the NHL playoffs and the Olympics, wants is a conflict between the two. Especially when the Olympics will straight-up steamroll the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (The Stars and Lightning are off to the worst TV ratings since the 2007 Stanley Cup between the Ducks and Senators.)
Again, though, that’ll all have to sort itself when Bettman can finally exhale upon the conclusion of this year’s bubble Cup.
“We’re going to have to do the same thing we did to get ready for the return to play: Explore all the options, be flexible and agile enough to implement when the time comes,” said Bettman.