The Stanley Cup final is underway, which means that hockey will be done for the season soon. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made scheduling nearly everything tentative, and that includes next season. The NHL has done an outstanding job with the playoff bubble system and their safety precautions (including playing in Canada) have helped post-season play go off without a hitch.
The league has said that it fully expects to get in an 82 game schedule for the 2021 season, and is planning on a traditional playoff schedule as well. With the end of the Final soon, the league will have all of October and November to assess return to play plans for camps and the new season. The question now is if that return to play will be in December or will the league wait until January for a fresh start in a new year?
The teams that did not qualify for the play-in round have been sitting since March 12th; a January start means camps will probably begin in December. That will be nearly nine months of no skate time for them, which could be difficult unless the league approves an earlier return, where safe, for those teams.
Yesterday, during his traditional pre-Stanley Cup Final press conference, Gary Bettman addressed these issues as best as he could when a situation is this much in flux.
”If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said during his annual pre- Stanley Cup Final news conference. ”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.
”Our goal is to get back to as great a sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented.”
Bettman acknowledged the financial strain that this may cause franchises, but expressed confidence that the league’s 31 current teams and its newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken, will be fine. He also acknowledged that he doesn’t know what the pandemic will be like in the winter, and what travel restrictions may remain between the US and Canada. Pulling off putting 32 teams in multiple bubbles will be difficult.
Allowing fans in to make up the revenue will be difficult.
”We’re going to see what the circumstances are like and do the best we can,” he said. ”We certainly want to maximize efforts to create circumstances where fans can attend our games and we can wait a certain amount of time to try to accommodate that. But at the end of the day, we also want to play a season, so we’re going to see what circumstance are like and make decisions when we need to make decisions.”
So basically, unless you want to watch the Blues and Wild play at Target Field with cardboard cutouts in the stands, we won’t be starting the new season off with the Winter Classic. That, more than likely, will have to be postponed a year. But we may be starting a new season, and regardless of the logistics of it, that is always something to look forward to.