The NHL playoffs are approaching the conference finals, so the league is starting to look at options for proceeding with the 2020-21 season. The NHL’s regular timeline is not an option during the pandemic, with the schedule usually kicking off in October.
ESPN’s Emily Kaplan wrote a piece detailing some of the ideas the league is mulling ahead of the next season. She caught up with a few NHL and team executives. Some of the things Kaplan is hearing are:
Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes an 82-game schedule is possible, many are skeptical. The situation is fluid, so the league will have to make adjustments on the fly. The more realistic option is aiming to play 70 games and then making changes as needed.
San Jose Sharks’ president Jonathan Becher went over some of the ideas the team considering during an interview with ESPN in May.
The Sharks are considering scenarios in which 12-18 people are in each suite, and that they are all filled because of their glass enclosures. There’s a sense around the league that they’ll remain appealing to fans. But luxury suites are usually owned by businesses, and COVID-19’s impact on those businesses will obviously impact their ability to own them or rent them.
California’s positive coronavirus cases are an issue. The sheer population of the state has resulted in skyrocketing numbers, but things appear to be getting better. If the numbers improve over the next two months, we could possibly see the SAP Center at 20-to-25% capacity early next season.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told NHL.com that the league would keep an eye on how other major professional sports leagues are handling the pandemic before making a final decision. While the league would like to limit the lost revenue by getting fans back in the stands, the NHL isn’t holding its breath.
Kaplan spoke with one team executive who said their club is down to three options for the 2020-21 season:
- No fans in the stands
- A progressive projection, starting with no fans and then increasing to 50% and then up to 90%
- An optimistic case in which the arena opens with fans and the progression is 50% to 75% to 90% capacity
This is all assuming a vaccine is approved and ready for distribution by the first quarter of 2021, hardly a guarantee. If a vaccine is approved by February, the league can look at opening up arenas for the season’s stretch drive and the playoffs. The league is also considering allowing arenas to operate around 25% capacity and keeping fans in pods during the games.
Daly doesn’t think the bubble format will work for the regular season. It is too costly for the league to sustain over an 82-game schedule, and asking the players to be away from family for an extended period isn’t a realistic possibility at this point.
If things improve with the coronavirus during the two months of the offseason, the league can alter its plans or shift the beginning of the season to Jan. 1. If a vaccine is ready to distribute by late-winter or early-spring, the league can develop some ideas on how to best proceed.
We won’t know for quite some time when the 2020-21 season will start, but hopefully, some fans will be allowed in.
When do you think the 2020-21 season will begin?