By the time the league resumes play on their tentative January 1, 2021 start date, it will have been 295 days since the San Jose Sharks last played an NHL game. Training camps for next season, as well as the start date itself, are a moving target while the league figures out the logistics of making a season with no fans and limited travel work.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently suggested the league may be backed into a late January or February start. For the Sharks, as well as the six other teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s 2020 postseason, the time away is more than just an average summer break: due to the coronavirus pandemic, access to training facilities and ice rinks have been limited in the seven months since the regular season was forced to conclude.
Once it became clear the the regular season would not continue and seven teams would not be part of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan, those teams allowed players to return to their homes. Some players in Europe may have had more access during this time, but especially in the United States, access has been limited. None of the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators or Sharks have held a team practice since.
The 24 teams who participated in the Return to Play Plan, of course, will be in recovery mode after an intense playoffs schedule, their only advantage being that they’ve been able to train together within the last three months. Even the teams that were eliminated in the qualifiers, like Joe Thornton’s Maple Leafs, were still afforded the privilege of group access to NHL ice.
So the general managers of the teams who have been on break since March 12 asked for up to an additional two weeks of training camp. According to an email to the Mercury News from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, that wish has a vague outline, but as with everything in the NHL’s immediate future, nothing is finalized.
In an email to this newspaper, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote the league and the NHL Players’ Association have a general agreement on the structure of extra pre-camp workouts for those seven teams, but the two sides have not yet finalized any details.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic first reported the tentative agreement between the league and the union.
The State of California, meanwhile, started laying groundwork for sports to return, with counties that fall into the “orange” or “yellow” risk tiers of the four-tier system being allowed to open outdoor stadiums at a reduced capacity. However, hours after the announcement, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department took a staunch stance against re-opening, denying the San Francisco 49ers and the San Jose Earthquakes the opportunity to allow fans to return.
Santa Clara and Alameda counties fall into the moderate risk tier 3, while San Francisco has graduated to tier 4, or minimal spread of coronavirus. Los Angeles, meanwhile, is still tier 1, with widespread cases.
These regulations are aimed strictly at outdoor events, making it all the more unlikely that hockey will return to the Bay Area anytime soon.