The National Hockey League is quickly gaining ground in its attempt to begin the 2020-21 season for the start of January. With COVID-19 case numbers continuing to skyrocket throughout nearly every NHL market, the league is adamant that a shortened season will be the answer moving forward.
Originally sticking with the thought of a typical 82-game season, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has since changed course. Just last week, the long-time NHL exec mentioned the ‘possibility’ of a shortened season, while NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly outright stated that the league has been in discussion with its players on a variety of issues, including playing a 48-72 game season in 2020-21.
While the main issue with playing/not playing is the rapid transmission of COVID-19, other factors (primarily money, salary, sponsorships and team/league revenue) is the driving force behind the league and players attempting to get the season back on the rails. Helping lead that discussion is a pair of Winnipeg Jets forwards and roommates.
According to TSN and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, players making up the newly-formed Return to Play committee include: David Backes, Darren Helm, David Savard, Justin Faulk, Lars Eller, Sam Gagner, Justin Abdelkader, Ian Cole, Zach Hyman, Ron Hainsey, Claude Giroux, Ryan Dzingel, Alex Biega and Chris Kreider, as well as Jets Andrew Copp and Mark Scheifele.
The 16-member task force includes both Scheifele and Ron Hainsey, who had each been on the original five-member Return to Play committee prior to the start of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs (alongside Toronto’s John Tavares, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk), as well as Copp, who has been very vocal in his research, thought process and media availability throughout the COVID-19 pause.
According to LeBrun, the NHL Players’ Association has an Executive Board call with all 31 player reps involved Wednesday afternoon. During this conference call, players/teams will be enlightened as to the progress made towards the 2020-21 season. Topics to be of hot interest include the start date, number of games per team, salary/financial implications and the attendance of fans/spectators.
After agreeing to deal as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement this past summer that will see players earn just 72 percent of their set salaries for the 2020-21 season, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks is reporting that the NHL is looking to bring that number down another 13 percentage points to 59 percent. The deal was originally set to be in effect whether 82 games were played or if the season did not even occur. Apparently the NHL is going back on its word. With the main concern stemming from the lack of individual team revenue due to the expected minimal fan attendance, owners have balked at the idea of continuing to pay players while hosting games in empty arenas.
The focus for the Return to Play committee continues to be a January 1, 2021 starting date, with a two-thirds length schedule. Teams very well may be playing out of their own arenas in baseball-styled series with divisional opponents. The idea of hosting an all-Canadian division remains at the forefront of the conversation. On Wednesday, it was announced that the ground traffic border closure between Canada and the United States would remain in place until at least December 21, 2020. With that said, players residing other cities, countries and continents will need to begin making their way back to their respective home team cities for the opening of 2020-21 NHL training camps.