NHL considering temporary hubs and a shorter 2021 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The NHL is considering a number of options for how to play the 2020-21 season including short-term hubs, realignment and a reduced schedule, commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.
Bettman's comments came in a virtual panel discussion during the 2020 Paley International Council Summit. While there still is no concrete plan in place for the next season, the options the league is considering are still a significant revelation.
The NHL has been steadfast in its desire to play a full 82-game season despite not starting until January at the earliest and the possible summer conflict with the Tokyo Olympics. Bettman's remarks Tuesday are the first public acknowledgment that the league is considering a shortened season and is a clear sign that 82 games is becoming more and more unrealistic, especially with Bettman's goal of getting back on the normal calendar for the 2021-22 season.
"Our goal is to get back to a normal schedule starting in the fall and being done before July on a longer-term basis," Bettman said.
Bettman also spoke about a temporary realignment for the league due to travel restrictions and seemed to hint at the long-rumored Canadian division.
"Obviously, we're not going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th Parallel, and so we have to look at alternative ways to play," Bettman said.
Bettman added, "We may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we're better off, particularly if we're playing a reduced schedule, which we're contemplating, keeping it geographically centric, more divisional based, and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues."
One option we can officially cross off the list? A bubble. Despite the success of the bubble format in the 2020 playoffs, Bettman said he would not ask the players to return to a bubble for an entire season. Instead, the league is considering short-term hubs. In that format, several teams will converge on one city for several games, then return home.
"You'll play for 10 to 12 days," Bettman said. "You'll play a bunch of games without traveling. You'll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We'll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It's not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible."
A temporary hub certainly does not sound promising in terms of fan attendance, but Bettman reiterated the league's position that how the season begins may not necessarily be how it will finish, thus leaving the door open for fan attendance later in the year depending on the pandemic.