The NHL was hoping to play a 56-game season starting Jan. 13 with teams playing in their own arenas. This plan included a divisional realignment and an all-Canadian division – necessary because the Canada-US border remains closed to non-essential business. However, provincial health authorities in Canada have challenged some of the protocols offered by the NHL, which could force a change. The NHL and NHLPA hoped to have a plan in place by the end of the week – which is expected to be approved by vote of the NHLPA Board of Governors and Executive Committee – but as of Friday morning, both sides continue to hammer out the details.
Sportsnet was the first to report challenges with Canadian health authorities.
While development has dampened some of the NHL’s momentum, it’s no big surprise: The NBA’s Toronto Raptors are starting their season in Tampa, Florida.
Sources tell ESPN that Commissioner Gary Bettman has consulted with Dr Anthony Fauci in recent months, along with other infectious disease experts, as the league formulates its strategy. The NHL and NHLPA have met daily for the past two weeks.
The NHL has vowed to remain nimble as it seeks to award a Stanley Cup ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021 – with the goal of restoring a normal pace for the 2021-22 season. But some teams are already facing challenges due to local restrictions stemming from COVID-19.
“We have a few clubs that cannot run a training camp or host games even without supporters in their current buildings and facilities,” Bettman said during a video panel hosted by the World Hockey Forum in Moscow on Thursday. . “And we’re going to have to move them elsewhere to play. ”
Sources told ESPN that the San Jose Sharks are making contingency plans to open their training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., Due to the Santa Clara County ban on contact sports (which has also forced the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL to temporarily relocate their operations to Arizona).
This week, dozens of NHL players voluntarily returned to their play towns, with the hopes that the season would begin on January 13 and training camps would begin a few days after Christmas. The NHL and the Players’ Association have agreed to allow the seven teams that did not qualify for the 2020 playoff expansion field to have more time in training camp since they did not have played since March. But sources told ESPN that due to the lack of time, these teams might only get an extra one to three days, if necessary.
If the NHL can’t continue with its first option – teams playing in their own arenas – the league is set to move to a hybrid bubble or central city format.
“Right now we’re focusing on whether we’re going to play in our buildings and have limited travel or play in a bubble,” Bettman said during Thursday’s World Hockey Forum panel. “It’s something we’re working on and getting medical advice. ”