Welcome to a special edition of NHL Rumours here on a Wednesday. All of the free-agent activity is currently on pause for the moment as we still do not know when the next NHL season will start. However, there is some good news on that front for all the hockey fans out there. In this edition of NHL Rumours, we here at Last Word on Hockey will be looking into the latest news surrounding what the next NHL season will look like and when it will begin.
Rumour: Andy Strickland Rinkside Reporter for Fox Sports Midwest reported that NHL players have delayed their travel to their respective cities citing the negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA. Instead of a January 1st start, the 2020-21 season could start in mid-to-late January or even as late as February 1st.
There are some #NHL players who have delayed plans to travel to their NHL city. Everything you hear and see from both the league and Players seems like we are destined for a 48 game season. Mid to late Jan or early Feb start.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) December 1, 2020
Analysis: As much as the NHL is wanting to start the 2020-21 season on January 1st it appears that will no longer be the case. Despite what the NHL keeps saying. They are steadfast on playing January 1st despite the new reports coming out. Playing January 1st was a lofty goal, to begin with. Originally the NHL wanted to start the new season on December 1st. However, the NHL had to move the date back to January 1st. This was done to give players more time off between the end of the 2019-20 season and the start of the 2020-21 season. And because of the ongoing negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA, the start of the season will be delayed even more. The new season will either start in mid to late January or the beginning of February. Again barring some miracle this appears to be the case.
The players’ Return to Play Committee has another call scheduled for this afternoon. The 16-player committee has been meeting regularly. One source on the committee says he feels a season start somewhere between Jan. 20-Feb. 1 makes more sense at this point, but nothing decided.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 1, 2020
48-Game Schedule Seems Apparent
We have seen that a 48-game schedule works in the NHL. This was previously done during the 1994-95 and 2012-13 lockout-shortened seasons. The model is there. 60 games was a little ambitious for the NHL considering what is going on in other sports. Even 48 games might be a little aggressive, but we know the NHL sees 48 games as a legitimate season. And considering there will be regional bubbles (Three American Divisions and one Canadian Division) it makes that these teams could play 48 games within their region and get to the playoffs from there. And with the border being closed at least through the middle of next year, this is the only way to have a season.
There are several factors in play. One of which is the virus itself. The virus is dictating the terms of next season. As much as the NHL thinks it is driving the train, it isn’t. Both parties knew in July that there were going to be financial difficulties, but nobody expected this. The NHL and NHLPA are heading into Major League Baseball territory when it comes to these negotiations. And that is not a good thing. Now the players have every right to be upset that the owners are asking for more money after they just signed a new CBA five months ago. Because we all know if the players came to the owners asking for a new deal, they would be laughed at.
Owners Versus Owners
The players want to play at the pay they negotiated four months ago. They do understand some money is better than no money. However, there are some owners and that list continues to grow, who are not in favour of playing next season. They feel it would be better financially not to play instead of losing money with no fans in the stands. We know Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said he does not want to play without fans in the building. And there are more owners just like that. So the real battle is owners versus owners not owners versus players. For the first time in his reign, Gary Bettman does not have all the owners on the same page.
Another factor in play is local governments. Originally training camps were going to open in mid-December. The seven teams who did not make the Return-to-play playoffs would have another week or so of time. Well, as we have seen, local governments are playing a role. Santa Clara County in California, where the San Jose Sharks play, said that no contact sports from the youth level up to the professional level can take place. This means those players on the Sharks who wanted to get workouts in can’t.
Even if the NHL was going to open up training camps in mid-December, the Sharks would not be able to do so. So the best-case scenario is seeing training camps after the Christmas holiday. Yet, it is not certain where the virus constraints will be by then. Will the Sharks be forced to play games elsewhere, and if so… where?
And while there are some players back in their respective cities after being on loan to European or KHL teams, most players are still in their respective home states or countries. Even if these players wanted to come back, where would they go and what would they do? Most players are just waiting on the NHLPA and NHL to get a deal done before they must come back and quarantine. And that makes sense. Why come back when you do not have to?
However, the longer this battle goes on, the shorter and shorter the season gets. The summer Olympics are looming. The NHL needs to be done with their season and playoffs by the middle of July, as the Olympics start on July 23rd. And with NBC, their TV partner carrying the Olympics, once that comes on, the NHL gets booted. Plus playing a shortened season will help the 2021-22 season get back on track.
In addition, having a shortened season is better than having no season. It would just be a bad look for the NHL not to play and the other leagues did. Most likely a deal will get done, but it will not be for January 1st. The deal will be for a mid-to-late January start date.
That does it for this special edition of NHL Rumours, keep it tuned in to the Last Word on Hockey for the latest developments.
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