For weeks now, it has been assumed that the NHL planned on dropping the puck on its 2020-21 season either right on January 1 or sometime not long after. Taking a quick glance at the calendar, one can easily see that the NHL’s target date is now less than a month away and there has been seemingly little progress made on determining exactly when that new season will begin or what the format will look like.
On Tuesday, Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic fired off a pair of tweets that provided a small update on where things stand at the moment as the clock keeps ticking for the NHL and NHLPA to come to terms on an agreement for next season.
The NHL still hopes to drop the puck in early January, which is a month away. A league source said this morning the target date hasn't shifted and that talks with the NHLPA continue. But my own two cents, given the Covid numbers, is that season may be further delayed. We'll see.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 1, 2020
Specifying “early January” as your target start date for the new season doesn’t mean the games must begin on New Year’s Day like has been mentioned in past rumors, but it also doesn’t give you much of a window past the first week of the month. Either way, if the NHL hopes to be playing games by the first week of the new year, they better figure out a plan sooner rather than later.
Following the original tweet above, Lebrun sent out another that provided some clarity on what the players are thinking in regards to the new NHL season and when it could potentially begin.
The players' Return to Play Committee has another call scheduled for this afternoon. The 16-player committee has been meeting regularly. One source on the committee says he feels a season start somewhere between Jan. 20-Feb. 1 makes more sense at this point, but nothing decided.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 1, 2020
At this point, given the all the circumstances regarding the pandemic and outlying issues between the NHL and the NHLPA, this late January-early February target date seems more realistic than what the NHL has in mind.
For comparison's sake, the lockout shortened 2012-13 began on January 19 and ended April 28 with all teams playing 48 games followed by a standard Stanley Cup playoffs beginning on April 30 and ending on June 24, a few weeks later than normal.
Outside of the later than normal starting date, the comparisons between that season and this upcoming one are almost none, Once the CBA issues were resolved and play could begin back in 2013, there were no other obstacles in the way that prevented the NHL from not completing its season. That is simply not the case with the upcoming season as the COVID-19 pandemic continues alter the sporting landscape seemingly daily.
Over the past few weeks, our team here at Pensburgh has discussed various aspects of what a 2020-21 season may look like, including the hopes the NHL has for the new season and what the league may look like if they utilize the rumored division realignment to play games.
Those are just two of the many obstacles the NHL is having to deal with in regards to the ever changing landscape of the pandemic and its effects on how sports are contested at this time. Travel, testing, and virus protocols are all issues that will need to be ironed out before players can return to the ice.
On the money side of the game, there is disagreement between the league and the players surrounding salary deferrals and escrow. It was believed those issues were solved when the two sides agreed to a new CBA in the summer, but the NHL is looking for some extra concessions with revenue dipping due to a lack of fans in attendance.
Regardless of when the NHL does drop the puck on the new season, their battle against the pandemic will be long from over and it’s almost a guarantee games will need to be postponed and rescheduled like we have seen in other sports leagues from around the world.
How the league handles those inevitable challenges when they come to pass will determine just how worthwhile all these off the ice efforts to bring hockey back were in the end. Here’s to hoping it’s all worth it, and the sport we love dearly can make a triumphant return sometime in the new year.