What will the 2020/21 NHL season look like?
After the triumph of hockey’s resumption during 2019/20 after a long coronavirus-induced layoff, focus has now switched to the 20/21 campaign. Not too much has been confirmed about the upcoming season, even with the entry Draft taking place in early October. That hasn’t prevented sportsbooks from releasing futures bet odds on the 2021 Stanley Cup winners, however. As explained by Sports Intel, “a futures bet is a bet that is placed…against an action to take place later”, such as the outcome of a competition to be decided several months or years in the future. And according to draft kings, Colorado Avalanche are clear favorites for the 20/21 Stanley Cup with odds of +800. But other than this, what else do we know about the new season?
An 82-game season has been confirmed
One thing that is set in stone is that the 20/21 NHL regular season will be a full 82-game campaign. This was confirmed by league commissioner Gary Bettman in mid-September, who stated: “I anticipate playing a full season next season, 82 games…our goal is to get back to as greatest sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented.” Because the 19/20 NHL season was truncated due to the long pause, teams had only played between 68 to 71 games by the time it was suspended in mid-March, with the league going straight into the playoffs upon resumption. Returning to a full 82-game campaign will enable teams to reap the financial rewards of playing more matches and help cushion the impact of the pandemic.
The 2020/21 start date is set for January 1st, 2021
With the disrupted 19/20 campaign only ending in late September, the standard October to June season timeline is impossible to stick to for 20/21. In July, the league and the NHLPA agreed to a tentative November 17th start for training camps, with the regular season itself slated to begin two weeks later. However, on October 6th they announced that the season start would be delayed until at least January 1, 2021, and that they’d decide on a date for the opening of training camps in due course. “My preference would be to stay out of summer as much as possible,” Commissioner Bettman has said. “Our fans typically like watching us through the fall, winter and into the spring, and it’s always been a goal to be done by the end of June.”
The bubble approach will be modified
While a dual hub city bubble strategy was a success during the 19/20 season restart, with players quarantined there during the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals, the league won’t be replicating this for the 20/21 campaign. Speaking to The Associated Press, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr stated: ”Nobody is going to do that for four months or six months or something like that”. Players have been blunt about their dislike of spending all their time in a bubble. For instance, Tampa Bay Lightning forward stated that the 64 days spent inside it felt more like six months, while Vegas forward Max Pacioretty has been quoted as simply saying: ”I hope we don’t have to do that again.”
The league and the NHLPA will meet soon to decide how exactly to safeguard teams from COVID-19 during the season, with Fehr suggesting that shorter term bubbles will likely be the way forward. “Whether we could create some protected environments that people would be tested and they’d be clean when they came in and lasted for some substantially shorter period of time with people cycling in and out is one of the things I suspect we will examine.” One concept reportedly being considered is an initial hybrid bubble approach, in which there’d be four to six bubbles in various locales around the NHL, with players rotating between two weeks in quarantine and a week outside. This would only be a temporary plan, however, with the aim of teams eventually being able to host games in their home arenas.
Whether fans will be in attendance remains to be seen
Although there is clearly a willingness to get fans back into stadiums as soon as possible, the NHL hasn’t announced any plans to make this happen during the 20/21 campaign. This is unlike other leagues — for example, a number of NFL teams already have fan policies in place while the MLB has declared that supporters will be let into arenas during the league’s playoffs. As touched upon, NHL teams probably won’t even play games in their own stadiums during the initial stages of the campaign, so fan attendance seems a long way off. But, with the pandemic situation developing all the time, the policy on this could change at any time. Indeed, league commissioner Bettman hasn’t ruled anything out either, stating that: “How we start [the season] doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how we have to finish.”
Story by Syna Smith. Smith is head of SEO at Backlinks Media.