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Bettman: 2020-21 season start could slip into later December or January

During his Stanley Cup Finals media conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the 2020-21 season could start later in December or maybe in January, but also admitted that there were no definitive decisions or plans yet.

To kick things off, Bettman started his press conference by praising the players for their professionalism and dedication to safety that has led to a successful Stanley Cup playoff tournament despite the circumstances. He said that without their passion for playing, the tournament would have never been able to go forward and certainly not as smoothly as things have played out.

“From the moment we began discussion [for] a way to get our game back up and running, the players have been not just essential partners in the operation, but in many ways the drivers and inspiration for what we ultimately put in place. Their passion for our game and its traditions never were more evident than when we were concerned about how much time they’d have to spend away from their families in the bubble. We presented options that shortened the lengths of the series in the first two rounds. No, they overwhelmingly said, if we’re going to play for the Stanley Cup then our winner must run the full gauntlet.”

However, when looking ahead at the 2020-21 NHL season, Bettman advised that the league had begun its “informal thinking” about how things are going to work but that no concrete answers are in place quite yet as a result of COVID-19. So when will the upcoming season actually get underway and what is that going to look like? It’s complicated.

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“December 1st has always been a notional date. I will not be surprised if it slips into later December, could slip into January. But there’s no point right now in making any definitive comments on our plans because there’s still too much we don’t know. We’re going to have to do the same thing we did to get ready for the return to play: explore all the options, be flexible and agile enough to implement when the appropriate time comes.”

Back in July when the NHL and players association announced that the league was coming back with an extended CBA, December 1st was included as the date for the start of next year but that may have to get shifted as a result of world events. With COVID-19 still very much impacting daily life and uncertainty remaining over when the Canada/USA border will re-open, the NHL has had to remain flexible when it comes to the start of a new campaign, though, Bettman did say he still expects to play 82 games and would like to “stay out of the summer as much as possible.”

There’s also the question that looms about whether or not fans will be allowed in NHL rinks to watch, as has been done in some European soccer leagues and with NFL. In response, Bettman suggested that it’s way too early to say what will happen with fans in the stands, but that the NHL is keeping its eyes on the situation as news develops.

“How we start doesn’t necessarily relate to how we’re going to finish. So if we’re going to speculate – and this is pure speculation, I’m just throwing it out there as a random thought – it’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point and by some point in time maybe our buildings are open.”

Clear as mud, right? As always, all we can do is wait and see what happens, but I’m still hopeful that the league and players will be able to work together on making next year run as smoothly as these playoffs have, even if we have to wait a little bit longer than expected to get there.