There is still a lot we do not know about the 2020-21 NHL season, ranging from when it will begin to what it might look like when it does begin.
On Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shared some possibilities during a virtual panel discussion.
One of the possibilities mentioned by Bettman is a hybrid hub system that would rotate teams in and out of them throughout the season.
“You’ll play for 10 to 12 days,” Bettman said during the summit, via NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika. “You will play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible. And so that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.”
When the NHL resumed the 2019-20 season it did so with 24 teams playing in two bubble cities (Toronto and Edmonton) that kept strict social distancing and mask guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. During the nine week bubble the league reported zero positive tests. The NBA and WNBA had similar reports during their bubbles. By comparison NFL and MLB have had several outbreaks and scheduling issues due to COVID outbreaks in their non-bubble seasons.
Bettman said a full season bubble is not an option and that the league would not ask players to do that. That of course leads to the hybrid bubble idea.
He also mentioned the possibility of teams playing in their home arenas with or without fans, depending on the local rules.
The two other issues relate to the number of games played and travel.
Bettman acknowledged the possibility of playing a reduced schedule, while also temporarily realigning the divisions to make things more “geographically centric.”
More on that from Bettman (again via NHL.com)
“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense.
“It may be that we’re better off, particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating, keeping it geographically centric, more divisional based, and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues.”
The league is still hoping for a January 1 start date.
Given the increase in COVID cases in the United States and Canada as the winter months approach it is pretty obvious that this season will not be a traditional NHL season. Whether it is played in front of empty home arenas, or in some sort of a hybid bubble, with realigned divisions and a shortened scheduled the league is going to have to adapt in some way. They apparently have ideas. Which ones get finalized with the Return To Play committee remain to be seen.