We’re still a ways away from any concrete plans being made for the NHL to return, but Chris Johnston joined Tim and Sid on Sportsnet to discuss some of the things he’s heard around what the league’s plans are for finishing this season and what it means for next season.
On completing the 2019-20 season…
I think at this stage it’s fair to say the focus is on trying to complete the regular season. The league believes they can do that in three weeks. With having eight teams a piece inside of one place and having the divisions approximated in four locations, if you play three games a day that there’s a way to re-jig the schedule and get it so that every team reaches 82 games.
That’s the preferred method and I think that can still change. Obviously, if they can’t open facilities and they can’t have that training camp in June and if the league starts working on a narrower timeframe I think that goes out the window. But, as of what I’ve last heard, I think that’s the priority.
Of course, everything is contingent upon government officials lifting restrictions on gatherings and ultimately giving this a green light, but it appears that the NHL is seriously prioritizing finishing off the remaining schedule.
It makes some sense, mostly from the perspective of teams battling for spots to play out the rest of the games before going into the playoffs, but it leaves the teams who are already out of the picture in a difficult position. How interested are teams like Los Angeles going to be to get rolling again when there’s no chance they could make the playoffs? Drew Doughty already explicitly said that he doesn’t think a return makes sense.
But from a team perspective, all 31 teams still have regional television deals and playing the rest of the season out, even if games are completely meaningless, would help make up for lost revenue. It’s just difficult to imagine a lot of players on these basement teams putting their hearts into it at this point.
On plans for the 2020-21 season… 
There’s two dates that have been bouncing around, and I don’t think they’re official, but some think it could be Dec. 15 as the start of next season for the league, and some think immidiately after Christmas, Dec. 27 or 28.
The league would have to hand out the next Stanley Cup [in 2021] prior to the start of the Toyko Olympics. NBC is a major league sponsor and a TV partner in the U.S. and the Olympics is NBC’s baby. That timeframe is probably too condensed even if you get rid of the All-Star break and the bye weeks and other things to stage 82 games. Someone told me they could see it being 70 games in that kind of scenario if we’re looking at a late-Decemer start-up.
Basically, what it comes down to for next season is creating an adequate amount of room after the 2020 Stanley Cup is awarded in the late summer or fall for an off-season and getting the 2021 Stanley Cup awarded before the Tokyo Olympics begin on July 23. There’s no way that the league would be able to squeeze an 82-game schedule between December and July, so cutting the season down seems inevitable here.
Another thing to consider is that the longer the league waits to play the 2020-21 season, the more likely it is that fans will be able to attend games. Given how gate-driven the league’s revenue is, delaying the start of next season in order to have fans in the stadium would be more worthwhile than starting earlier to squeeze a bunch of fanless games into the schedule.
You can listen to the entirety of the interview here…