Is the upcoming NHL season getting delayed over COVID-19 fears?
It took almost a full year, but last year’s NHL season finally concluded on Sep. 28th, and the Tampa Bay Lightning took home the Stanley Cup, beating the Dallas Stars four games to two. Typically the season ends in mid-June, with the next season starting in early October.
However, 2020 wasn’t the typical year. The NHL postponed the 2019-2020 season in March due to the growing concerns of COVID-19. The pause ultimately pushed the season back and into the start of the following season. So much was missed as a result of the break. The weekend the season should’ve started, the NHL held their draft. They also had to shorten training camps.
The NHL announced the season would begin on Jan. 1st, 2021, after initially starting in December. With COVID fears still looming, did the league push its start day because of the pandemic?
The short answer is no. The NHL didn’t push back the start of the season because of pandemic concerns. The long answer is complicated and involves the NHL/NHLPA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The previous CBA was supposed to go through the end of next season. Since COVID pushed the end of the season into the beginning of the next, the NHL & NHLPA negotiated a four-year extension with Dec. 1st as the tentative start date. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated the date is subject to change on multiple occasions.
In Bettman’s remarks at the 2020 Draft, he explained, “Our hope is to have a full season, full regular season, and to have fans in the building, but there are a lot of things that have to transpire, many of which if not most of which are beyond our control before we can finalize our plans.”
To maintain its revenue, the NHL needs fans in attendance. Ticket sales account for about 37% of the NHL’s revenue – highest among the U.S.’s four major sports leagues.
The bigger concern
The more significant concern is the NHL’s shortened training camp. Training camp & preseason games are incredibly important for players’ health. The NFL had a month of training camp & no preseason games. As a result, week two saw around ten high profile players go down with significant season-ending injuries.
Shortening training camp is a problem for the seven teams that didn’t qualify for the bubble. Those players haven’t played since the NHL paused the season in March. The Dec. 1st start date had training camps opening up on Nov. 17th. There’s no official start date for training camp, but teams could start voluntary workouts on Oct. 15th.
Teams have to follow strict protocols for voluntary workouts. First, NHL teams needed five members agreeing to attend the workouts and no more than twelve players on the ice. Also, players & staff in attendance will need a negative test before entering the team facilities and will be tested twice a week.
What was canceled?
The NHL decided to postpone its 2021 Winter Classic & All-Star Weekend. Important games like the Winter Classic & All-Star Weekends are scheduled years in advance, complicating their schedule. The league intends to reinstate these key games in the near future.
Luckily for the NHL, they hadn’t announced host cities for the 2022 Winter Classic & All-Star Weekend, so they’re only pushed back a year. There is no word on if the NHL Stadium Series will still happen in 2021. The Stadium Series is scheduled for Feb. 20th, and the Carolina Hurricanes are the hosts, but an opponent has yet to be announced.
The Stadium Series is a tossup. On one hand, no opponent was announced, so it could be easier to postpone it to next year. On the other hand, the Carolina Panthers allowed fans in their stadium, so there could be an opportunity for the game to remain scheduled.
It would’ve been awesome to open the NHL season with a Winter Classic game. What do you think? Will we see a 2020-2021 NHL season? Let us know!