Let’s turn our attention to the future of hockey within the NHL: next season. At this moment, no one really knows when the 2020-2021 season will begin, nor do they know how it will be played, or how many games it will entail. The only thing we know is that it will be played.
Commissioner Gary Bettman is aiming for a full slate of 82 games next season but admits that there are a lot of variables and unknowns mostly regarding Covid-19 issues.
“There’s no point in making definitive comments on our plans because there’s still too much we don’t know,” said Bettman. “Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States is going to be open by a certain date, nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be, nobody can tell me whether or not our arenas will be able to have either socially distanced or fully occupied buildings.”
The league was able to circumvent the border issue for the bubbles by having strict quarantine orders in place for players and personnel in both the United States and Canada with US teams only travelling once through the border rather than back and forth. In the coming months, it’s likely that the border will remain closed as the pandemic is still out of control in portions of the the US. Certain hot spots of viral activity may be undesirable for travel or game playing. So, a bunch of different options are being considered including hybrid bubbles in certain regions. One division may just be an all-Canada team (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal).
Players freely complained about the limited options of bubble life and feeling isolated after being away from family for so long. The league had overpromised on many of the accommodations and amenities, including stating that families could come into the bubble after a certain point in the playoffs. As it turns out, only families that were already in Canada under quarantine conditions were allowed to enter. One would imagine that players would not be excited about the possibility of entering another bubble situation for a full season. One option that is being considered is the hybrid bubble model. Teams would play against the same opponents within the regional bubble for two weeks then return to their families for a week before going back to the bubble for two weeks. With this plan, each team would likely play 12 games a month which would make the season somewhere between 48-60 games for a regular season, depending upon how far they go into the calendar year. Since Bettman is promising full playoffs, it’s likely that April will be the cutoff month for the regular season. Unlike this season, there is a time crunch: NBC will start broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021.
The hybrid bubble plan includes a possibility of teams playing at their home rinks at some point, possibly with some amount of fans. It really depends upon how the many variables shake out. The way things are going here, I can’t imagine in-person attendance next season.