NHL reportedly still eyeing Jan. 1 start date for 2020-21 season

·3 min read
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is still targeting a Jan. 1 start to the season. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is still targeting a Jan. 1 start to the season. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

It seems we may soon find out more about the the NHL’s plans for the 2020-21 season.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that the NHL will update the board on its ongoing discussions with the NHLPA on a call Thursday. Dreger notes that there is still plenty to iron out surrounding the conditions around the league’s relaunch — including protocols and the length of the schedule — but that Jan. 1 remains the targeted date.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not touch on New Year’s Day, specifically, at a recent virtual panel discussion, but did acknowledge many of the changes rumoured as the league is forced to adjust in order to stage competition amid a pandemic.

Namely, the NHL is exploring the use the short-term hubs or “hybrid” scenarios in lieu of bubbles in order to protect players, employees and the competition, but without completely robbing players of their freedoms.

"You'll play for 10 to 12 days," Bettman said, according to NHL.com. "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. And so that's one of the things that we're talking about."

The commissioner said on the panel discussion that asking players to bubble for an entire season is not an option.

If this hybrid season is indeed adopted, it will serve as the framework for what Bettman seems to anticipate will be a reduced schedule.

Another acknowledgement from the commissioner was the idea around realignment. While most of the focus has been on the potential formation of a Canadian division due to the travel restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border, Bettman also mentioned cross-state travel being an issue in some areas as well.

These considerations will be taken into account with the NHL likely forced to overhaul its divisional breakdown as one effort to rescue a season in which safety of the players and the public is the top priority.

“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,” Bettman said.

"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."

New Year’s Eve is just a little over seven weeks from now. So the clock is ticking on the NHL to formulate plans if it is to indeed hit its target.

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