As COVID-19 cases skyrocket across Canada and the United States, the NHL reiterated in a Board of Governors teleconference update on Thursday that the target date to start the 2021 season remains Jan. 1.
Nothing has been written in stone - on either a format or start date - and the clock is ticking with training camps tentatively scheduled to begin in one month’s time for a New Year’s Day start.
Association executive board teleconference update on Thursday, have not been provided a date to report to their respective cities.
The only tangible update, according to sources on both calls, is the growing appetite for teams to open the 2021 season in each of their home arenas rather than “hybrid” bubbles.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the details of the proposed hybrid bubbles earlier this week, a concept that TSN reported on back in September. They remain one avenue for hockey to return.
However, citing significant costs attached to operating the bubbles in addition to potential lost revenue with games staged in neutral sites, the preference is for each team to travel city to city to complete a shortened regular season. The NFL and MLB have both conducted their seasons in that fashion. The NHL spent an estimated $75 to $90 million to stage the 2020 Stanley Cup playoff bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
A city-to-city 2021 schedule would include temporary divisional realignments, including a likely one-off, all-Canadian division - which rabid hockey fans might consider the only gift of the pandemic. (Good luck predicting that division's order of finish!)
Teams would be permitted to have fans in their arenas in limited capacities as dictated by local and regional health authorities. That would allow teams to generate marginal gate revenue, with the hope that capacities could expand as the season moves along and a vaccine becomes prevalent, along with recouping in-arena signage and advertising revenue via regional broadcasts.
Teams would likely travel to divisional opponents to play short series of games, think along the lines of a baseball schedule with two back-to-back games or three games in four nights before moving along to the next stop. This would reduce travel and players’ time away from families.