NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is sticking to his guns and anticipates playing a full 82-game season in 2020-2021, along with the playoffs.
The league boss spoke ahead of Game One of the Stanley Cup Final, part of his annual NHL address, and noted that there were no conclusive plans pertaining to how next season will play out. The league has been “informally thinking” about it, however.
But uncertainty is the order of the day, especially when it comes to exactly when the 2020-2021 season would begin.
“December 1 has always been a notional date. I will not be surprised if it slips into later December, could slip into January,” Bettman said. “But there’s no point right now in making any definitive comments on our plans because there’s still too much we don’t know.”
The December date for starting play was part of the original Return to Play plan unwrapped in July, the same Return to Play plan that has led to the Stanley Cup Final currently underway. But given the increased number of unknowns on the COVID-19 front, holding to that December date is starting to seem a little on the tenuous side.
The league is currently playing through hockey in the Edmonton bubble, so there is a blueprint for that type of arrangement. Toronto also served as a bubble city and the NHL did a great job holding to health principles and handling life in a pandemic.
But there is conjecture as to what a return to play would look like for the 2020-2021 season, particularly as some sports leagues around the world have started cautiously adding fans back to the equation.
That suggests that the NHL could look at a sort of staggered start.
“How we start doesn’t necessarily relate to how we’re going to finish,” Bettman said. “So if we’re going to speculate – and this is pure speculation, I’m just throwing it out there as a random thought – it’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point and by some point in time maybe our buildings are open.”
On the calendar, we know that the Stanley Cup will be awarded by September 30 at the latest. And the NHL Entry Draft is slated for October 6-7 on a virtual basis, while free agency opens October 9. There will be plenty to talk about as hockey enters one of its most unconventional “off-seasons” yet, but what the future holds is just too uncertain to call.
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