The 2020-21 NHL regular season is reportedly set to be shortened due to the impact of COVID-19 during the last season.
Due to last season running well into the summer, the league is set to begin its new season on January 1 with a 48-to-60 game total, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a conference call Friday. Teams are scheduled to play home games at their venues, while hub cities have also not been ruled out, should the pandemic carry into the new year.
“We have to build in flexibility for the hiccups that we expect will come along and have to expect will come along with potential COVID positives and contact tracing requirements,” Daly said. “Some of the difficulties that [Major League] Baseball went through and some of the difficulties that the NFL is currently dealing with, how do we address those situations in the context of our own schedule? Those are all the things we’re working on and those are all the things that keep us all up at night as we try to figure this out.”
With the regular season kicking off in January, over two months when it normally would begin, the league is hoping to complete the Stanley Cup Playoffs by mid-July. In addition, training camps for NHL teams would begin in mid-December with the seven non-playoff teams from last season, receiving an extra week of practice.
As for teams playing in front of fans, that is still up for consideration pending the numbers improve for the pandemic. The Flyers last played in front of fans in February before seeing the regular season halted due to the outbreak of COVID-19 throughout North America. Daly admits that teams would be more comfortable playing games in their home stadiums before welcoming fans back due to travel regulations.
“If possible to do so, I think our clubs would much prefer to play in their home buildings even if that means not before fans,” Daly said. “Having said that, in some markets, if we dropped the puck tomorrow night, I’m not sure all markets could accommodate a game just by local regulation and health restrictions. That changes on a daily basis; the restrictions that come into effect, the restrictions that go out of effect. That presents its own challenge on just staying on top of what all the conditions are.”
“Look, we know there is some urgency here, there is some urgency for making decisions, and while we want to drop the puck on Jan. 1 we also recognize that we’re not going to rush into a bad decision just to make it. Whether that Jan. 1 can be a little later, we certainly have flexibility to move it later. We are in regular communication with the clubs. I think the players and the clubs have a fairly good understanding of what a Jan. 1 opening would require.”
As for divisions, the Flyers could see a lot of games against opponents on the East Coast in order to save teams from flying constantly across the country. There is no official decision made on how teams will be paired together, but it seems likely that the Flyers would continue to play rivals Pittsburgh, both New York teams, New Jersey, and Washington.
“Realistically, if we’re going to start in the first part of January, mandatory training camps are going to have to start in the middle part of December,” Daly said. “In some of our markets there continue to be quarantine requirements associated with players coming into town, so you factor those in and you back it up from there. I would ultimately concur with the conclusion that time is getting short.”
The Flyers finished as the No. 1 seed heading into the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season before being eliminated by the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the second round.