By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The National Hockey League and its players continue to inch closer to the framework of a 2021 season.
“A lot of work on protocols,” Darren Dreger said of Tuesday’s topics. “Everyday we’re reminded of how devastating COVID-19 is. And the National Hockey League and Players’ Association, along with the government leaders, are very sensitive to that.”
Those protocols mentioned by Dreger includes the potential and language of opt-outs should players feel uncomfortable with returning to play as the coronavirus pandemic rages on in both Canada and the United States. Seven players in total opted out of last summer’s Return To Play in Edmonton and Toronto, including Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer.
Just as pressing, of course, is how the league will schedule what they expect to be a 52-to-56 game schedule in 2021.
Now, it’s been made clear that the NHL wants to wrap up their season before the 2021 Olympics begin (NBC being the TV rightsholder to both the NHL and Olympics is an obvious reason) and on a timeline that gets the league back to normal for 2021-22. The easiest way to do that would be to make a schedule similar to the one the league implemented during the lockout-delayed 2013 season, which saw most teams play every other day from start to finish. But with COVID-19 outbreaks inevitable (look at the NFL’s problems), the NHL wants to cover all their bases, as noted by Pierre LeBrun.
“As one source said today, there are conflicting objectives here: On one hand you want to play as many games as possible in a short amount of time between mid-January and early- to mid-July. On the other hand, watching the NFL go through its season, the NHL and NHLPA know that there will probably be games that are going to be postponed because of COVID-19 cases,” LeBrun relayed. “They are working in some empty days within that schedule, so at the end of the day, it will be a little less compressed than you might have imagined because they have to have that flexibility in there.”
And though the league remains undecided on their schedule format for the 2021 season, they do have a definite wrap-up date in mind, as the 2021 Olympics are currently scheduled to begin on July 23.
The prospect of expanded rosters has also been discussed, according to LeBrun.
“The NHL, I’m told, has made a proposed framework to the NHLPA over the last few days as far as the new-looking rosters: how many players you can have, and taxi squads,” said LeBrun. “The NHLPA has to get back to the league on that. The two sides have to finalize that but, again, the key work there will be flexibility.”
The AHL has plans to begin their season in February 2021, but if that doesn’t pan out timeline-wise, the NHL may have to look at what the MLB did with ‘alternate training sites’ for players shuffling on and off the main roster.
The good news is that the NHL appears to have an official training camp date in mind, too, with a source telling Colorado Hockey Now’s Adrian Dater that Jan. 3 will be the start of a 10-day training camp in preparation for a Jan. 13 puck drop. Teams have reportedly started to encourage players currently out of their NHL cities or loaned to leagues overseas to begin their return to the U.S. and Canada in preparation for a 14-day quarantine and report to training camp.
Inching closer and closer.
We talked about this in the newest episode of Sidelines at 985TheSportsHub.com. Listen to the full podcast below.