Daily Roundup: 2021 NHL season likely to feature shortened schedule and hub cities

Updated: October 25, 2020 at 5:34 pm by Cam Lewis

Sep 15, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN;Tampa Bay Lightning forward Pat Maroon (14) skates during warmup against the New York Islanders in game five of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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General managers lay groundwork for 2021 season

On Friday, the NHL’s general managers met via conference call to discuss the league’s plans for the 2021 season and navigating the COVID-19 landscape.

Larry Brooks at the New York Post summarized the meeting, in which the NHL is aiming for a normal 82-game schedule but is aware that likely won’t be a possibility. Jan. 1 is still the expected start date for the NHL and the 2021 All-Star Game and Winter Classic have both been postponed. There’s no word yet if either will be made up later in the season.

“The goal is still to start as early as Jan. 1 and to play a full season,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “Having said that, we also recognize, depending on a host of different things, that it could take a different form and we might not be playing a full season, we might not be playing into the summer, we might not be starting on Jan. 1. So there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”

Brooks mentions that the league is considering operating with a modified hub city situation. It wouldn’t be like this summer’s playoffs where teams were isolated from the rest of society in Toronto and Edmonton, but instead, more like in Major League Baseball where players and staff were expected to follow COVID safety guidelines and regulations.

The hope for the NHL is that they can play in hub cities where fans are allowed in the stadiums. Again, like with MLB, the World Series is being played in Texas in which roughly 10,000 fans are allowed in the stadium, which helps the league recoup some value on ticket sales that would otherwise be lost on an empty stadium. Brooks says that teams would hypothetically travel to a hub city and stay there for two-to-three weeks and then head home for a week.

No decisions are imminent, of course, as any kind of hub city or bubble or changes made to the standard season would require negotiation between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association.

All-Canadian Divison still a possibility

What about the All-Canadian Division and geographical realignment? That’s still a possibility.

The Canadian government is doing a pilot project at the Calgary Airport involving rapid testing for travellers who arrive internationally. The aim is that 48-hour testing can remove the need for a two-week quarantine period upon arrival. The pilot project is set to begin in early-November and could ultimately result in the Canadian government easing its border restrictions.

But there isn’t much turnaround time for the NHL as the goal is to start the season at the beginning of January. The league will need to come up with a schedule for the 2021 season within the next month which doesn’t give them much time to wait and see if the Canada-U.S. border restrictions are going to be softened.

With that in mind, the All-Canadian Division might be an inevitability.

Over at the Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons suggests that we should anticipate a massively reduced schedule…

The odd equation of this coming NHL season: The more games that are played, the more money team owners will lose.

Don’t expect a season much longer than 56 games. And don’t expect players to earn much more than 54% of their total salaries, with increased escrow, already-agreed-to discounts, and likely more back-and-forth negotiations before play is set to resume sometime in January.

The draft lottery is an issue for some GMs

Another thing that came up on the GM conference call was an issue with the draft lottery.

Daly said that it wasn’t a substantial amount of GMs that had an issue but there was discussion that the draft lottery should be reviewed.

“We heard on the call from a number of GMs saying they think it needs to be tweaked,” Daly said. “It certainly wasn’t a majority, it wasn’t a large number, but we invited feedback and we’re always receptive and responsive to what the clubs think is the right answer at the end of the day.”

The issue is that all teams who miss the playoffs have a chance to pick at the top of the draft. I would guess that teams like the Red Wings, who finished dead last and ended up picking fourth, weren’t happy that a team like the Rangers, who got to play in the play-in round, ended up with the top pick.