The 2020 postseason has not yet been completed, but discussions over what the 2020-21 season will look like are ongoing with the NHL trying to figure out what another season during the coronavirus pandemic will look like. On Friday, the league announced the dates for the NHL draft have been moved to Oct. 6-7. In addition, the start of free agency will be at 12 p.m. on Oct. 9.
The first round of the draft will take place on Oct. 6 with the remaining six rounds running on Oct. 7. Then, it's a very quick turnaround into free agency which this year will have no interview period. In a typical year, there is a period in which teams can meet with pending free agents a few days before the start of free agency to discuss potential interest and fit. While it is against the rules to talk about specific numbers during this period, magically several contracts are agreed on soon after free agency begins on July 1.
With no interview period, you can expect a frenzy the first day as teams rush to make their pitches to various players. What you should also expect, however, is that there probably won't be many deals done on that first day like in a normal year. It may take a few hours or days for some of the top players to make their decisions which will add to the intrigue.
That's what we know about 2020 thus far. There's still a lot that we don't know, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly shed some light on where the league stands with several major decisions in a recent episode of The Athletic's Two-Man Advantage podcast.
The tentative plan for the NHL was to finish out the 2020 postseason, then begin play of the 2020-21 season on Dec. 1. That's a pretty fast turnaround and one that increasingly appears unrealistic, even to Daly.
"If I had to handicap it today, it's probably less likely than more that we would start on Dec. 1, but that's not set in stone by any means," Daly said.
What the league is not backing down from, however, is its desire to play a full 82-game season.
"We still would love to play an 82-game season," Daly said. "I can't sit here and guarantee you that will be the case, but it continues to be an objective, continues to be a goal."
There are a number of issues that make this seem unlikely, the first of which the desire to get back to a normal schedule as well as how long an 82-game season would run.
A normal season runs from October into June so a little less than nine months. If, for example, the start of the season was moved back to Jan. 1, nine months would take the season into September. That, in and of itself, would not be a problem if not for the Summer Olympics which were pushed back to 2021 and are scheduled to begin July 23 and run through Aug. 8. NBC has broadcast rights to the Olympics which means the NHL could take a backseat during the playoffs right when the league would be hoping for interest to be peaking. Don't forget, many playoff games are national broadcasts and not just local. Also, while the NHL season did not pause for the 2018 WInter Olympics, that happened during the regular season and a potential conflict with the NHL is not something NBC would have originally considered for the summer games or prepared for.
The league has said it would forego the all-star break and bye weeks to help make up that time. You can also expect a much more compressed schedule, but even with those measures in place, it would still be difficult to fit all 82 games plus the postseason before July 23 if the season does move back from Dec. 1.
Considering there likely won't be fans in arenas for a December start, one has to wonder if it even makes sense financially to have 82 games. The NHL is a gate-driven league and it suffers greatly from the loss of fans. Even if fans are not allowed into games, however, the NHL almost certainly will not be going to a bubble system for the full season.
When Pierre LeBrun, one of the hosts of the podcast, expressed that a bubble scenario seemed unlikely, Daly said, "I think that's totally fair. There's no doubt what will end up being two-plus months in a secure zone with no interaction with the outside world including your family members is very taxing."
He added, "That does not present a model for a full regular season by any stretch. That's why I said before, I think what we're facing with respect to how we construct next season and what it looks like is a totally different challenge than what we constructed for the completion of the 19-20 season and it's going to look a lot different."