NHL still hoping for January 1 start, but it may take ‘different form’

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We still do not know when exactly the 2020-21 NHL season will begin or what it will look like when it does, but the league told owners on Friday that it is still hoping to play a full 82-game schedule with a hopeful Jan. 1 start date.

All of that is still subject to change as the league admits the season could take on a different form.

“The goal is still to start as early as Jan. 1 and to play a full season,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Friday, via NHL.com.

“Having said that, we also recognize, depending on a host of different things, that it could take a different form and we might not be playing a full season, we might not be playing into the summer, we might not be starting on Jan. 1. So there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”

What that “different form” consists is anybody’s guess at this point, but it could range from anything to a shortened season, to a temporary realignment to deal with travel issues that could arise due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The league does not want to use a full season bubble format (and frankly, it is not really a realistic option) but there has been talk of an all-Canadian division, and perhaps even a “hybrid” bubble.

It is still difficult to know what the league can do because there are so many variables at play, from testing availability, travel, the potential for fans in the stands, and simply the science surrounding the pandemic.

The 2019-20 season was delayed for more than four months and returned with a 24-team bubble in Toronto and Edmonton.

The NHL has already postponed the 2021 Winter Classic that had been scheduled for New Year Day in Minnesota, as well as the 2021 All-Star Game. That was to be played in Florida.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.