We are about a month removed from the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup inside the Edmonton bubble. But as free agency marches on, the focus is being shifted to when the 2020-21 NHL season will begin. The NHL and NHLPA have stated they have a target date of January 1st. However, that could change as the off-season progresses. There is so much speculation about next season. Besides the question surrounding the length of the season, some feel that not having a season would be best. However, if the NHL went down that path they would be making a grave decision. The worst thing the NHL could do is not have a 2020-21 season. Let’s take a look at why the NHL must have a 2020-21 season, or else be irrelevant for years to come.
The NHL Must Play 2020-21 Season
The NHL is coming off a very successful 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs inside the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles. While it was a little unorthodox, so was a lot of what we saw when it came to sports in 2020. Just like the NHL, the NBA was in a similar situation. The NBA finished their season in a bubble and now are looking to get the next season started. They are trying to figure out a way to get the next season underway without losing a significant amount of revenue. However, now more than ever, the NHL must find a way to play in 2021. With the NBA agreeing to a 72-game season and a December 22nd start, the NHL needs to determine a way to start a season in January.
Not to mention the fact that MLB started and completed a season. The NFL is currently in the midst of their season. College football is the middle of their season. If the NHL were not to have a 2020-21 season that would be a back look. It is never good to have one of the four major sports dark. And the NHL has a history of having a lockout shortened season, not to mention losing the entire 2004-05 season because of a work stoppage. Something the league has finally recovered from.
Major League Baseball was close to not having a season, but they figured out a way to play. However, unlike MLB, NFL, and NBA, the NHL relies the mostly on gate revenue. The other three sports leagues have solid television contracts that allow them to play with little to no fans in the building. The NHL is tied to one national network in Canada and the United States. While there are regional television deals, it is not enough to make up the difference. With a new television deal on the horizon, that will not help the current financial situation of 2020-21.
Reason Behind Not Having A 2020-21 NHL Season
As previously mentioned, finances will play a big part in whether the NHL has a 2020-21 season or not. According to several reports, some owners feel they will be better off financially if the league shuts down next season. We know there are some markets that have been struggling for a while. And not having a season could help the teams that are having some financial problems. However, the teams still must pay player’s salaries. That will definitely take a toll on their finances. Even with 8.1 percent of player salaries already paid for the 2020-21 season, the best course of action is to play.
Again, finances will always be a part of life. The NBA is going through that right now. They understand they will lose less money starting December 22nd than if they start in January. The NHL and NHLPA must sit down and start hammering out a way to start playing. We all know this season will look different, but any type of season will be better than none at all. And in terms of dollars while it will be less than expected, at least it is something. It will allow them to have a way to balance out their costs. The NHL may be putting off the inevitable when it comes to these franchises. Some of those struggling franchises might eventually fold or relocate to different markets.
Remember the new expansion money from Seattle does not kick in until early 2021. And if the league does not play, that could delay the expansion of a new franchise. We all know how much the NHL needs that expansion money. It will definitely help get them through some of the tough times, but may not be enough.
Commissioner Bettman Wants To Play
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Commissioner Gary Bettman wants to have a 2020-21 season. Regardless of length. One thing is for certain, Bettman does not want to have summer hockey again. He indicated so during his state of the union address prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Commissioner Bettman doesn’t drop hints or say things for no reason. He knows it would be best to play a shortened season and get the league back on track for a traditional season for the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
Ideally, Commissioner Bettman and the NHL want full buildings to return to play. Unfortunately, during this pandemic that is not going to happen right away. They hope later on in the season that will be a possibility. We know the players do not want season-long bubbles, but regional division might be the way to go especially if the border between the United States and Canada remains closed. We have heard several owners come out and say they do not want to play in empty buildings. And depending on what state the game is played in, that will determine if there are fans or not, as we have seen in the other sports. Even having a limited seating capacity to start will definitely help the NHL in terms of getting revenue back. Again, this all comes down to what the NHL can work out with the respective state governments.
But one thing is for certain, the NHL is keeping everything close to the vest. The ideal start date is for a January 1st drop puck. With the American Hockey League saying their 2020-21 season is going to begin February 5th, you have to believe the NHL will start sometime before that. If anything, the NHL pushes the start date back to January 15th, with training camp beginning after the Christmas holiday.
Urgency To Make A Deal
Now that the NBA has announced its December 22nd start date, you have to wonder does this have any effect, on the NHL to make a decision quicker? Most likely not, but it will help justify the NHL getting started on a 2020-21 season at the beginning of January. And the NHL will need all its sponsors and television networks on board for that. The NHL and the NHLPA worked tirelessly around the clock to get a deal done for the league to return to play to complete the 2019-20 season in August.
Now granted, a new CBA was tied to the deal. But they did it with no media attention. And we have seen with the other leagues, that when the media gets a hold of something it gets ugly between the two sides. That is something the NHL and NHLPA are trying to avoid. However, the clock is ticking on the NHL to get a date in place for a 2020-21 season. Not to mention, the NHL will want to start and finish before the 2021 Summer Olympics… if they happen in July. Since NBC covers the Olympics, you know the NHL will not have priority if they play summer hockey. Plus, there will be no eyeballs on the product. That is why you have to start as quickly as possible.
The NHL needs to have a 2020-21 season. The optics of not having one would be too much for the NHL to overcome. The sport is already treated like a stepchild in the United States. If there were no 2020-21 season, the NHL will become irrelevant. The NHL already has the model in place for a shortened season. Just look at the 1994-95 and 2012-13 seasons. In both seasons, the NHL played a 48-game regular season with the league finishing the playoffs by the end of June. Both sides know it can be done and it works. The question remains when will we hear from the league on an official start date for the 2020-21 NHL season?
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