The NHL is still putting together its plan for the 2020-2021 season and flexibility is key.
On Friday, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the @TheRink podcast that they could use one scheduling model to start the year and finish in another direction.
Both the NHL and NHLPA are discussing the capacity for teams to host games at their home arenas, while hub cities may also have to be in the mix for at least part of the season. These hub cities will be determined based on what locations have the fewest cases of COVID-19.
The goal is to start on January 1, as it has been for some time now. Two week mandatory training camps would precede the start date, while teams that did not make the bubble scenarios last season would be granted an extra week to train. Teams might be able to hold optional conditioning camps leading up to training camp.
Clearly the preference for ownership groups is to start playing in team arenas as soon as possible. That could take place with or without fans, although government restrictions resulting from the spike of COVID-19 cases across North America will play a role in how that bears out.
Everything at this point depends on the market.
As Daly pointed out, some markets won’t be able to accommodate a return to play at the moment because of local restrictions. These restrictions are changing on an almost daily basis as governments try to get a grip on the pandemic.
The NHL has a lot to consider and a lot of changing rules to stay on top of, so you can imagine why this process is going rather slowly.
The NBA has shown more force of commitment going forward, but the NHL has its eye on border-related issues and a few more complications. That said, they would like to use the NBA’s timing as context for when they can get on the ice.
The hub city model will be less stringent when compared to the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles.
“You’d set up some dedicated space and restaurants for the players without the secure perimeters that we had in the bubble cities,” Daly said. “That would be the benefit of hub cities. You would be in a situation where teams would travel in, play a bunch of games over a two-week time period and then be able to go home and spend time with their families…”
Daly stresses the NHL wasn’t going rush into a “bad decision” just for the sake of making it, but he also appreciates the urgency to get back to business. Getting this right is vital, particularly considering how well things worked out in the bubble, but players and owners want to get to it as soon as possible.