The NHL doesn’t have a start date for its pandemic-delayed season, but, in a virtual meeting with the league’s Board of Governors Wednesday, it continued to navigate some tricky decisions that have to be made.
The league, which hopes to start Jan. 13 and play 56 games, isn’t expected to formally announce plans for the season until next week. The players association would have to agree to it.
The NHL has several issues it is exploring with the players’ union, including whether games are played in home arenas or in a one “bubble” city for each of the four divisions. A new one-year division alignment also has to be ironed out, along with decisions on rosters sizes (read: taxi squads), when training camps start, schedule flexibility for possible coronavirus-related postponements, and COVID-19 testing and safety measures.
There also will be an opt-out for players who don’t want to play because of the virus.
According to TSN in Canada, no decision has been made, but the league is leaning toward having the Flyers and their arch-rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the same division.
Last month, the league had floated a new division format that, according to ESPN, had the Flyers and Penguins in different divisions. That seemed mystifying based on the teams’ bitter rivalry and fairly close proximity. That report had Carolina, not Pittsburgh, in the Flyers’ division.
In the new four-division format discussed by the NHL during its Board of Governors meeting Wednesday, the Flyers and Pens were together, per TSN.
This is how the four divisions, which still have to be named, could look:
Division A: Flyers, Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Washington.
Division B: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, and Tampa Bay.
Division C: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis, and Vegas.
Division D (all Canadian teams): Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
The Canadian division is required because of the closure of the Canada/U.S. border due to the pandemic.
The NHL’s overall plan appears similar to what transpired in 2013, when a lockout caused the season to begin in mid-January, and teams played a condensed 48-game schedule.
Some NHL owners have said they will lose millions of dollars if fans aren’t allowed in arenas and have wondered whether it’s worth it to play this season. Those owners appear to be in the minority.
The league has backed off on trying to alter the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in July.