Optimism is growing that the NHL could start its season around Jan. 15, but it’s not a slam dunk.
The league is floating a proposal for a 52- or 56-game season, and it wants the Stanley Cup champion crowned by July 15, enabling the 2021-22 season to start at its normal time (early October) and have an 82-game schedule.
But the league and the players’ association still must agree on some labor issues that are on the table.
The sides seemed more optimistic Friday that they were getting closer to an agreement.
The NHL, with some owners saying they may not be able to recover from lost revenue if fans aren’t allowed in arenas, wants players to agree to raise the cap on salary escrows and to defer more of their salaries.
The players have balked, saying both sides executed a CBA extension in July, knowing a 2020-21 season without fans was a possibility because of the coronavirus. There have been hints that players will make some minor concessions in the coming days.
It is not known yet if the games will be played in home arenas or if each of the four divisions will have a designated city to play games in a “bubble,” limiting travel and hotel stays and hopefully reducing the risk of contracting the virus.
If all goes according to plan, players would report to training camps in early January, though the seven teams that didn’t play in the postseason in 2019-20 would probably report earlier since they haven’t played since March. Those seven teams are Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, New Jersey, Ottawa, Buffalo, and Detroit.
For economic reasons, both sides would like to play as many games as possible. The more games played, the more revenue and that would cut the debt players will have to repay owners in following seasons.
If the coronavirus, which is raging across North America, pushes the season’s start to, say, February, a 48-game season would probably be played.