The National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association have continued dialogue the past week in going over many facets of the proposed return-to-play scenarios. Although much of the talk surrounds players, agents and NHL representatives squabbling for money, some direction has begun taking place as to the layout of the coming 2020-21 season.
With the NHL’s board of governors discussing potential return-to-play plans for the coming year, many options – schedule-wise – have been suggested. However, one proposal has garnered the most attention: that of a 60-game regular season, with a full four-round Stanley Cup Playoffs, beginning roughly around January 1, and ending approximately July 15.
These dates will have some wiggle room, but must remain in place as this proposed start date is now only 40 days out, with the July 15 conclusion holding significant importance, as the 2020-turned-2021 Summer Olympic Games are now scheduled to run Friday, July 23 through Sunday, August 8. Both NBC and CBC will have full coverage of these events – meaning hockey must be wrapped up prior to that. Should this proposal be accepted, training camps will begin by the second week of December, while players have already begun returning to their NHL host cities.
Already eliminating various fixtures from the average NHL schedule, including the All-Star Weekend, the Winter Classic, the Heritage Classic, Stadium Series matchups and various scheduled break weeks throughout the season, the NHL continues to look for ways to compact a full season into the shortest possible stretch of time, allowing for injury and potential game rescheduling – due to possible COVID-19 conflicts.
One way that this will be possible is the elimination of 22 games per team, bringing the abbreviated season total to 60 games. Originally adamantly 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.
Players involved on 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. Interestingly, zero goaltenders are a part of this committee.
After agreeing to this deal as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the 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. However, the NHL is apparently 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. It appears as though teams will most likely be playing out of their own arenas in baseball-styled series with their divisional opponents. The idea of hosting an all-Canadian division remains at the forefront of the conversation. Last 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 in other cities, countries and continents have begun flocking back to their North American post.
The proposed divisional realignments for 2020-21 appear to be three eight-team, US-based divisions, with the seven Canadian teams sticking north of the border and playing games solely in Canada, out of their own arenas. At this point, the four divisions for the 2020-21 season are as follows:
US Division I
- New Jersey
- New York Rangers
- New York Islanders
US Division II
- St. Louis
- Tampa Bay
US Division III