As the 2019-20 NHL comes to an end, nearly one year after its start, the league looks to the 2020-21 NHL Season schedule. Outside of the 2020 NHL Draft and the start of NHL free agencies, the league has yet to announce much for the upcoming season. The league expects the season to start on December 1. However, challenges such as whether the Canada-US border will open this year, certainly make planning a challenge.
Details on the 2020-21 National Hockey League schedule are slowly emerging, although there are still many challenges for the NHL to deal with before they release everything.
The Set Dates for the 2020-21 NHL Schedule
Only a few things are set in stone for the 2020-21 National Hockey League schedule. The 2020 NHL Draft (bet on Alex Lafreniere to go first in the 2020 NHL Draft to New York Rangers) and NHL free agency.
The first round of the 2020 NHL Draft is set for Tuesday, October 6, with the rest of the draft the following day. Free agency opens up on at noon on October 9. In a standard NHL season, the regular season starts about four months after the draft and free agency. Of course, the world is not living in the standard and starting four months after October is not what anyone expects.
The Tentative Dates for 2020-21
The league currently expects the season to begin on December 1. They have also not changed the date of two outdoor games – one in Minnesota on January 1 and a second in North Carolina on February 21. The All-Star game is scheduled for January 30, in Sunrise, Florida.
Eighty-Two Games from December to August?
Do big games and playoffs work in the summer? After witnessing people come out in a pandemic to support the Toronto Raptors against the Boston Celtics, the answer is yes. Typically, the NHL starts in early October, and the Stanley Cup Finals wrap up in early to mid-June.
Pushing the start of the season back to late November or early December means the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals will take place in the middle of August. The NBA also pushing back the start of their season means the same competition for viewership will happen. Of course, the NHL and NBA have always competed against each other, except during the Finals when they opted to play Finals games on different days.
Both leagues would agree that wrapping everything up before the start of the 2021 NFL season as numbers for both leagues playoff games against NFL Week 1 were very disappointing.
Gary Bettman has come out to say the league is planning for an 82-game schedule. Of course, he knows the challenges facing each team and the league overall. Flexibility is a necessity, along with a team capable of making snap adjustments. The team could look to the 2012-13 NHL Season as a base example of how to build their schedule.
Lockout Season Schedule
The NHL faced a scheduling challenge for the 2012-13 NHL season. The season, originally scheduled to start on October 11, 2012, was delayed until January 19, 2013 – due to both sides not coming to terms on a new CBA.
The NHL and NHLPA came to terms on a 48-game schedule, with more back-to-back, but less travel as they only played intraconference games. The NHL playoffs format that season was unchanged.
Of course, the issues of negotiating a new CBA are much different (and less severe) than the current pandemic and its effects on the health care system, travel, and the economy. Speaking of travel…
The Biggest Challenge
One obstacle stands in the way of the NHL (much more than leagues with one Canadian team). That obstacle is the closure of the Canada-US border. The closure is continuing until November 30 (as of September 21). While the current opening date would not affect the league’s regular season, a (likely) extension would.
If one is a schedule maker, the Canadian teams playing each other to start the year would make sense. Does such a theory hurt the NHL? Maybe. However, late-season games between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins or the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins would surely do well on Hockey Night in Canada.
*Quick aside, it is sad that the Seattle Emeralds will not see the puck drop until the 2021-22 season – we would have mentioned a game between them and the Vancouver Canucks on HNIC.
The other question is whether the NHL would condense the games by making the schedule more back-to-back intensive to make the schedule end closer to the norm. As these leagues have lost tens of millions due to cancelled games and no fans and in the stands, it would be a shock if the league voluntarily cut games.
It would almost make more sense to start the season lighter with the hopes of more places opening and allowing for some fans to attend games.
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