With the 2019-20 NHL season ending with the Stanley Cup being awarded as soon as tonight, we’ve got our first look at what next season could look like.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told the Associated Press that the league could be looking at a hybrid bubble to start next season.
“Nobody is going to do that for four months or six months or something like that,” Fehr said. “(They would look like) protected environments that people would be tested, and they’ve be clean when they came in and lasted for some substantially shorter period of time with people cycling in and out is one of the things I suspect we will examine.”
According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the hope is it would consist of four-to-six ‘bubbles’ in cities around the NHL with a preference for cities where fans would be allowed inside arenas — at least one of which would be in Canada. As the border remains closed, Seravalli noted there could be an all-Canadian division introduced to begin next season.
NFL games are starting to see fans in cities in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Texas, Tenessee and Missouri, Seravalli said, with the list growing to include North Carolina, Arizona and Louisiana in the coming weeks.
This hybrid bubble concept would include a rotation of two weeks in the bubble, followed by one week at home where players can regroup with their families, then rotating back in for another two weeks before returning home again.
The thinking is that each team would be able to play approximately 12 games per month, which is doable given that there will be no travel between games other than flying in and out.
One major schedule sticking point is that the NHL likely needs to conclude the 2021 season before July 22, when its American television rightsholder, NBC, flips to coverage of the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. With 12 games per month, that could allow for a shortened 48- or 60-game regular season in four or five months.
The key to a hybrid bubble concept is that it is not permanent.
The plan would be to start the season in hybrid bubbles, then progress to teams hosting games in their home arenas and cities with limited capacity, before hopefully ramping up closer to full capacity in time for the playoffs.
The format of the 2021 season hinges largely on how the science and local health authority regulations that evolve over the next months and as the calendar turns.
Seravalli also said it would require a commitment from players to socially distance themselves and take necessary precautions in the off-weeks.
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