The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will soon be coming to an end, but it seems we are no closer to knowing what the next season will look like or just when it will begin. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media on Saturday prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and acknowledged the 2020-21 season may actually be pushed back to 2021.
The league set a target date for Dec. 1 for the start of the season, but Bettman said he "would not be surprised" if that start date "slips into later December, [or] could slip into January."
"There's still too much we don't know," Bettman said. "Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States will be open by a certain date, nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be, nobody can tell us whether our arenas will have either socially distanced or fully occupied buildings. And we're going to have to do the same thing we did for return to play: explore all the options, be flexible and agile enough to implement when the appropriate time comes."
Interestingly, Bettman still reiterated the league's desire to play a full 82-game schedule, but beyond that he would not speculate about what the season would actually look like in terms of scheduling or if divisions will have to be realigned.
"I anticipate playing a full season next season, 82 games, full playoffs," Bettman said. "How and when we do that is something that we don't all have enough information to make any decisions, and anything would just be sheer speculation. Our goal is to get back to as greatest sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented."
With the NHL possibly having to push back the season into January, an 82-game season becomes less and less likely. The Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin in July and the league has a real incentive to avoid it since the Olympics are also broadcast by NBC. The league would not just be competing for interest, but for air-time as well. Trying to compress a full season and full offseason from January to July, however, would be an enormous task.
With only two teams remaining in the Edmonton bubble, it certainly appears that the NHL will be able to pull off the 2020 postseason and the league should be commended for that. The unfortunate reality, however, is that there is no time to celebrate that achievement. Now the real work of putting together a 2020-21 season must begin.