NHL teams playing in their hometowns gain ground to start 2021 season


As COVID-19 cases skyrocket across Canada and the United States, the NHL reiterated in a Board of Governors teleconference update on Thursday that the target date for the start of the 2021 season remains on January 1st.

Nothing has been set in stone – whether it’s a format or a start date – and time is running out with training camps tentatively scheduled to begin in a month for the start of the New Year.

The players, who also hosted their own NHL Players Association board conference call on Thursday, were not given a date to travel to their respective cities.

The only tangible update, according to sources on both calls, is the growing appetite for teams to open the 2021 season in each of their home arenas rather than “hybrid” bubbles.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed details of the hybrid bubbles on offer earlier this week, a concept TSN reported on in September. They remain one of the ways back from hockey.

However, citing the significant costs of operating bubbles in addition to the potential revenue losses with matches staged at neutral venues, the preference is for each team to move from town to town to complete a shortened regular season. Both the NFL and the MLB have run their seasons this way. The NHL spent roughly $ 75 to $ 90 million to host the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.

A city-to-city schedule for 2021 would include temporary divisional realignments, including a likely unique, all-Canadian division – which rabid hockey fans might see as the pandemic’s only gift. (Good luck predicting the order of arrival of this division!)

Teams would be allowed to have supporters in their arenas in limited capacity, as dictated by local and regional health authorities. This would allow teams to generate marginal revenue, in the hope that capacities could increase as the season progresses and a vaccine becomes widespread, while also recouping revenue from signage and advertising in the area. arena via regional broadcasts.

Teams would likely travel to division opponents to play short game series, think of a baseball schedule with two straight games or three games in four nights before moving on to the next stop. This would reduce travel and time for players away from their families.

The only certainty for the 2021 season is that it won’t be an 82-game slate. There is no concept on the table that includes a full regular season. There are many schedule models ranging from 60 or 62 games to 56 and up to 48 games, traditionally the minimum required for a length of time accepted in previous shortened lockout campaigns.

With a shortened season ahead, NHL players have braced themselves for a possible pro-rata salary. They are already expected to receive only 72% of their reported salary for the 2021 season, with 20% reimbursed to owners for losses in the 2019-20 season, plus a 10% salary deferral. (That’s 72% because it’s 20% on top, minus 10% of the remaining 80%.)

To date, no proposal has been tabled by the NHL to the NHLPA – and finances were not discussed during the Board of Governors’ appeal – but NHLHA members had to expect to a request for an increase in the salary deferral for next season rather than on a pro rata basis.

It wouldn’t change the amount of money players get paid, only when they are, and it would apparently be a much more acceptable option for union membership. But in return for help with the owners’ cash flow outside of the ratified July collective agreement, the NHL players would likely ask for a return.

What this might be remains to be seen. Almost all economic projections see player debt to owners rising north of $ 1 billion after the 2021 season, based on the 50-50 system-designed income between players and owners.

The unknown is normal for the course in 2020.

As cases increase across the continent, lockdowns will begin, as they did in Manitoba on Thursday – with gatherings restricted primarily to household members. All athletics facilities have been closed and the Jets would need an exemption to host a training camp in Winnipeg in mid-December.

That remains a big ‘if’ at this point, with many Governors and Owners wondering if a February 1 start date is more realistic.

The NHL has remained focused on a January 1 start date because the league would ideally like to award the Stanley Cup in mid-July. A mid-summer end would not only allow US television rights holder NBC to complete coverage ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, but also allow the NHL to resume a more traditional roster for the 2021-22 season and beyond – especially with Beijing winter 2022. The Olympics were scheduled to end this season’s schedule in February.

It was Mike Tyson who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

At this point, the NHL and NHLPA have not formally made one, knowing full well that the punch is coming with the second wave of coronavirus invading the continent.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli


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