When Gary Bettman announced that the NHL was now eyeing a January 1, 2021 start date for the 2020-21 season at the 2020 NHL Draft, the fate of two standing league events immediately came into question. January is a busy month for the league, who open the New Year with the Winter Classic and close it out with All-Star Weekend.
If the coronavirus pandemic was under better control in the United States, perhaps the 2021 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, featuring the Minnesota Wild facing the St. Louis Blues at Target Field in Minneapolis, could’ve opened the season, as it was originally scheduled for January 1.
That date, however, needs to be flexible during a time where there’s so much uncertainty regarding travel and gatherings. On Monday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie described it as being “a notional target,” suggesting the season could start as late as February.
Which also explains why the 2021 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, planned for January 29-30, 2021 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, has been cancelled. Even if the season manages to start on January 1, there’s not likely to be a lot of wiggle room for large, league-wide events, especially if the league is operating in a partial-bubble system, or only playing in-division games for the regular season.
That’s also not considering the condensed scheduling the regular season will have by starting three months later than usual, making it all the more difficult to set aside time for outside events.
Both the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend have been technically postponed to 2022, but regardless of the word choice, the events won’t be happening as part of the 2020-21 season.
“Fan participation, both in arenas and stadiums as well as in the ancillary venues and events that we stage around the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend, is integral to the success of our signature events,” said NHL Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer in a release. “Because of the uncertainty as to when we will be able to welcome our fans back to our games, we felt that the prudent decision at this time was to postpone these celebrations until 2022 when our fans should be able to enjoy and celebrate these tentpole events in-person, as they were always intended. We are also considering several new and creative events that will allow our fans to engage with our games and teams during this upcoming season.”
The league made sure to note that this doesn’t impact moving forward with January 1 as the target start date, and both Gary Bettman and Bill Daly have expressed that they don’t want next season to run too much later than it would normally, if at all. It’s getting harder to imagine the season coming together that quickly, as some camps would begin six or seven weeks from now.
The Playoff Bubble seemed impossible at one point too, and the NHL did an admittedly great job of pulling that off. But the regular season is a different monster, one that will require use of arenas in the United States, where spread of the virus has yet to be contained, even seven months later.