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The NHL 2020-21 Season To Start In December?
By Michael Walters
The NHL continues to try to determine how to conclude the 2019-20 season. The latest idea has been to play out the remaining 189 games in various NHL arenas throughout the league with a condensed schedule. The plan would include playing three games a day at each location according to Commissioner Gary Bettman.
To address this the NHL and the NHLPA recently established a “Return To Play Committee”. The league is currently in Phase 1 where everyone is to remain in isolation. The league hopes to be heading to Phase 2 soon, which would be getting players in small groups at NHL facilities to practice and work out.
While the league and NHLPA try to figure out this season, what about the 2020-21 season?
There have been multiple reports that the NHL still wants to have a full 82-game season. According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN/The Athletic, next season could start in December for two reasons. First, several in the league would be willing to finish this season in the fall. Second, others in the league would like to have fans in the arenas if medically feasible next season. The NBA has also had discussions of having its 2020-21 season start in December as well.
The idea of the league trying to start an 82 game season without modifications in December, would mean the 2020-21 season would likely finish in August instead of finishing around the beginning of June.
There are some things the NHL could do to tighten up the schedule to have the 2020-21 season finish closer to its normal timeline. The league could cancel the All-Star Weekend, which to some wouldn’t be that big of a deal. The NHL could do also away with bye weeks and the schedule could have more back-to-back scenarios throughout the season.
There is still one more possibility.
The league could shorten the 2020-21 season if they still want to finish off the current season and/or if the state of the world is still an issue. When the 2012-13 NHL lockout was finally resolved, the league ended up having a 48 game season that started in January. It might not have to be drastically cut that much, but maybe the 2020-21 season could be 60 or 70 games instead.
No matter how the 2020-21 season plays out, the league has to also consider the domino effect on the 2021-22 season. Once all of this gets resolved and if the league does have an 82-game season next year with a delayed start, then the summer break to follow could be shorter than normal.
Along with trying to finish the season, the NHL has to also determine how to proceed with the draft, free agency, and NHL awards. The league has mentioned the possibility of still having the draft in June, which we discussed on the recent DucksNPucks podcast.
Lastly, why not just cancel the 2019-20 season and move forward some still ask. It would help in addressing most of the issues discussed above, right?
Unfortunately, the decision involves money and plenty of it. According to The Athletic’s James Mirtle, the NHL could lose somewhere in the amount of $1 billion to $1.2 billion if the season isn’t completed. That’s approximately 20% of the league’s revenue annually. Even if the 2019-20 season is completed without fans, then the league can still recover a good amount of that money from television, advertisers, sponsorships, radio, and several other forms of media.
However, at what point will the costs outweigh the benefits of finishing the 2019-20 season? A major question the “Return To Play Committee” will have to discuss.
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April 29th, 2020