While the NBA opened training camps Tuesday and plans to start its season Dec. 22, the NHL is taking a more cautious approach.
With coronavirus cases increasing rapidly, the NHL has not announced when camps or the season will start. The league had been hoping to open the season Jan. 1, but that now seems far-fetched. Players traveling from out of the area would have to quarantine before attending camps, which are expected to last two weeks.
The start of the season is a “work in progress influenced largely by what we’re hearing from the medical experts,” Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said as a panelist on a Sports Business Journal event Wednesday. “We’ve talked to some pretty high-placed people, without name-dropping. COVID is going through a second wave, which could be worse than the first wave. Between Thanksgiving and the aftermath, and what they think is going to happen for Christmas and the aftermath, we are taking our time and making sure as we look for ways to move forward. We’re focused on health and safety, and doing the right thing.”
The league, which has said it was considering 48- and 60-game seasons, would prefer to play games in teams’ home arenas. But the virus’ spike may force the NHL to go to Plan B and play games in a “bubble,” with one city hosting games in each of the four divisions. That would eliminate excessive travel and hotel stays in several cities, reducing the chance of players contracting the virus.
The NHL must also resolve some messy labor issues before it can begin its season. The NHL Players’ Association believes the league is trying to alter the Collective Bargaining Agreement extension that was reached in July.
Talks between the sides have stalled.
Bettman claimed Wednesday “we’re not seeking to renegotiate” the CBA, though the NHLPA would disagree. The players are unhappy that the league wants to change the salary deferral/escrow rates.
Bettman reiterated a point made by deputy commissioner Bill Daly to The Inquirer recently, that a coronavirus vaccine will help the league have an 82-game schedule that will start in early October for the 2021-22 season.
“We are hopeful and optimistic, based on everything we are hearing, that we can get back to normalcy in 21-22,” he said.
In the meantime, the upcoming season could be in jeopardy because of the coronavirus and labor problems.