The NHL shared multiple schedules for the 2020-21 season with the NHLPA on Thursday, including one for a 56-game campaign.
The schedules are reportedly based on a Jan. 1st start date, but both sides have considered pushing that date back. Jan. 15th start date is now being discussed as Jan. 1st no longer seems realistic.
A 52-game season is also under consideration, but both the NHL and the NHLPA reportedly prefer a 56-game schedule.
An exact start date did not materialize in discussions, which went late into Thursday night. It may fall a few days before or after Jan. 15, as both sides seek to maximize the number of games played.
Training camps would open approximately 10 to 14 days ahead of the set start date, potentially around Jan. 1 or Jan. 2.
Drafts were based on Jan. 1 start date, but sides discussed pushing that back (Jan. 15 or 16?).
Told talks were unrelated to recent economic requests.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 4, 2020
In addition, the seven teams that didn’t qualify for the 24-team return to play format in August may still have the option of starting a voluntary training camp one week earlier in late December. That remains a topic of discussion between the two sides, with talks continuing on Friday.
At this point, the NHL and NHLPA determined that there is not enough runway to conclude even a 60-game regular season and award the Stanley Cup by early July. But a 56-game season, which could be balanced evenly in both seven-team (Canadian) and eight-team (U.S.) divisions, would make sense for a number of reasons – even if it required moving a Jan. 15 start up a few days to accomplish.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in an interview with Sports Business Journal on Wednesday that the league’s singular focus is on wrapping up the 2021 campaign in a timely fashion.
“I think this is the most important thing: What we’re focused on is trying to get through the 2021 season so we can be back in position for 2021-22 to [get back to] normalcy,” Bettman said. “Based on everything that we’re hearing, we can look at normalcy by the time we get to ’21-22 with whatever happens this season.”
Thursday’s back-and-forth was unrelated to the NHL’s recent economic requests, which remain unresolved, according to sources. The NHLPA has not wavered in its stance that a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension ratified by both sides in July properly accounts for all of the economic realities related to the pandemic.
With COVID-19 cases still skyrocketing, local health authority restrictions in place and economic issues still outstanding, it is difficult to say definitively that progress has been made. But Thursday night’s developments were the most positive signs yet that a 2021 season will indeed be played.