The reality is hitting home. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic is in its final phase but most sweeping and a sports league that plays its games indoors will have to concede. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to the virtual conference 2020 Paley International Council Summit on Tuesday and acknowledged the potential concessions to achieve the 2020-21 NHL season, even as the world waits for the coronavirus vaccine.
The start date for the next NHL season remains a mystery which the league must negotiate with the players, but the format certainly sounds like it is taking shape.
An all-Canadian Divison could be the first one-off modification.
“Obviously, we’re not going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th Parallel, and so we have to look at alternative ways to play,” said Bettman. “And while crossing the U.S.-Canadian border is an issue, we’re also seeing within the United States limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states. It’s again part of having to be flexible.”
The new “bubble” will not be the two-hub city approach that the NHL used for the 2020 NHL postseason in Toronto. Instead, the NHL season may be played as a traveling tournament, of sorts, with weekly breaks so players can be with their families.
Family issues were a big issue during the postseason bubble, and Boston Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask even opted out of the playoffs due to a family issue.
The modified bubble’s primary format will be two-week intervals, after which players will spend a week at home with family or their roommates.
“You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling (and) you’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family,” Bettman said. “We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible.”
Note the caution — If we go this route.
The world may change again as the Pfizer vaccine hits the market, and new treatments are being rushed to hospitals, which shown effectiveness in keeping patients out of the hospital. However, Pfizer’s vaccine delivery schedule might begin next week, but the highest volume of vaccines will be available in 2021.
CNN spoke with state immunization managers dealing with the extraordinary challenge of delivering the vaccine, which must be kept at -103 degrees Fahrenheit. You can read that story here.
For some teams, the geographical realignment may bring out more natural rivalries, such as seeing the Detroit Red Wings renew their rivalries with the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. For others, like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Metropolitan Division, geography already defines rivalries.
The goal of the NHL is a Jan. 1 start. However, Bettman admitted the players and league are still in “brainstorming” mode.
As a league source recently conceded to the Hockey Now network for our Off the Record column, “I think it’s February. I don’t think any player is going to vote to do Training Camp over the holidays. It might be Jan. 15, but I think it’s more likely somewhere in February.”
So we wait, but the world is finally moving forward. We will have hockey sooner than later. And hopefully, that makes your day a little better.