In planning new season, NHL must decide when, where, how to play
The NHL would like to start the regular season by Jan. 1, but that could be pushed back to Feb. 1, or maybe even later.
That’s one of the many uncertainties facing the league because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly addressed another issue on the NHL @TheRink Podcast on Nov. 13: that the NHL and the NHL Players Association are considering a schedule model with all teams hosting games in their home arenas. Another model would require all teams to play in hub cities that would be determined based on where there are the fewest COVID-19 cases.
"We have to build in flexibility for the hiccups that we expect will come along and have to expect will come along with potential COVID positives and contact tracing requirements," Daly said. "Some of the difficulties that (Major League) Baseball went through and some of the difficulties that the NFL is currently dealing with – how do we address those situations in the context of our own schedule? Those are all the things we're working on, and those are all the things that keep us all up at night as we try to figure this out."
Whether there will be fans, and how many, would be determined by what is and is not allowed by each state or local entity.
Then there’s the fact that the border between the United States and Canada is closed with no sign of it opening any time soon. And there’s the possibility of potential quarantine restrictions when going from state to state in the U.S. Either could mean that the NHL would likely have to realign for the 2020-21 season. The seven Canadian teams could play in their own division and the remaining 24 U.S.-based teams could be placed into two or three divisions based on geography.
"As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense,” NHL commissioner Gary 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 and more divisional-based, and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues."
He made those comments in early November during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.