After weeks of rumors, negotiations, and general uncertainty, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the 2020-21 NHL season. Last week, we discussed the how the hopes of a season start by New Year’s Day were rapidly diminishing and that plan went out the window shortly thereafter.
With January 1 no longer on the table, both the NHL and NHLPA have zeroed in on a new target date. That date? January 13. This still allows the league to get its wish by starting the season in January with only a slight delay from its original target.
We’re now looking at a Jan. 13 start date for NHL, but there’s still some leg work left.... (1/2)— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) December 8, 2020
With a new season start date now on the table, it’s now up to the two sides to come to an agreement on all the other outstanding issues that serve as obstacles to making the 2020-21 season a reality. Luckily, it appears one of the major hurdles to a new season has already been cleared.
Sources say there will be no more discussions on proposed financial changes to the MOU outlining the terms of the CBA. Sunday the NHLPA proposed more deferred money, but didn’t include an increase in escrow percentage at any point. Focus now on a mid Jan start to season.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 8, 2020
As a quick refresher, due to expected revenue drops the NHL will be facing for obvious reasons, the league asked the players to defer more money from their contracts and escrow for this upcoming season, an issue that was supposedly resolved when the two sides agreed to a revised CBA in the summer.
The players balked at this request and it brought the two sides to a stalemate in their negotiations on the new season. It’s hard to blame the players for not going along with the league on an issue they thought to be resolved back in July, and now that issue seems to be full resolved and no longer an obstacle to hockey’s return.
With that out of the way, the sides can now focus on other outstanding issues that must be resolved before the puck can be dropped on a new season. The issues remaining are numerous and will require work from both sides to figure out, but it seems we are closer to an NHL season now than we have been at any point.
So, what are the remaining obstacles that need to be settled before a new season can be begin? Emily Kaplan of ESPN lays them out.
The sides are now aiming for a Jan. 13 start date, with either a 52- or 56-game schedule, sources confirmed to ESPN. The sides have communicated daily since Thursday, and the hope is to finalize a plan by the end of the week. That plan — which will include temporary divisional realignment, schedules and coronavirus protocols — must be approved by the NHL’s board of governors and the NHLPA’s executive board.
Along with Kaplan, many other NHL insiders have stated the season will consist of either 52 or 56 games. With just a four game difference between the two, this doesn’t seem like a huge issue, but it’s probably somewhere between seven to ten days added on to the regular season if they choose the 56 games route.
Other issues mentioned above were the proposed divisional realignment that has been discussed for weeks now and the obvious COVID protocols that will need to be put into effect similar to what other professional sports leagues have done. Any agreement between the two sides will then need approval from the NHL Board of Governors.
It’s not something that I have seen mentioned specifically, but one issue I do wonder about is how flexible the NHL schedule will be when it comes to potentially rescheduling games postponed by COVID cases. Based on what we have seen from other leagues, it’s more a matter of when, not if, games will need to be postponed. How the NHL decides to handle that scenario remains to be seen.
If the insiders are to be believed, then there could be a deluge of NHL news coming out as this week draws along. Although the season start date has been pushed back, the clock is still very much ticking if the NHL hopes to drop the puck in mid-January. Keep your eyes and ears peeled because we could very well have a much clearer view on 2020-21 season by the time the weekend arrives.