Today, the NHL announced in a press release that the league has postponed the Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Weekend due to uncertainty with COVID-19.
Does this confirm what Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said last week about a potential February 1 start or later?
In an interview with Vegas Hockey Hotline Foley touched on a number of subjects, but one of his most telling quotes was his remarks on not having fans in the stands in 2021.
“If we’re not playing (in front of) fans, I don’t know if a lot of teams can make it. Including us – it’s going to be very difficult,” Foley said.
He did acknowledge that he believed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has a plan and won’t have teams traveling to play in different arenas due to the massive financial burden of doing in empty buildings.
Foley also brought up Bettman’s wish to start on January 1.
“He’s (Bettman) saying January 1st, I don’t know. Maybe February 1st. Maybe an abbreviated season and an accelerated season.”
It is possible to play a shortened season of 48 games or so. I was a part of one in Nashville when the league last came out of a lockout in 2013. It was exciting because every game mattered. A three-game win streak could put you into the playoffs. A three-game losing streak could derail your chances. Each time out you could feel what was at stake, and it led to some fantastic hockey.
Also, to this day I have never come across someone who says that the 2013 Stanely Cup should have an asterisk next to it. That it was easier to win or less meaningful. Ask any member of that Chicago Blackhawks team if the ring shines any less bright. Same as with the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, there will be no question as to how hard it was to win. The difference for 2020 is that there will always be talk of the bubble in the playoffs… unless we enter one in 2021 as well. Perspectives shift.
Additionally, Foley pointed out the need to finish next season before the Tokyo Olympics. NBC’s broadcast commitments to the games would preclude the NHL from finishing in July. So if a February 1 start happens, you know you need eight weeks for the playoffs. Therefore you have to wrap the regular season by the end of April. That means 13 weeks. A typical NHL schedule has three games per week on it. That’s 39 games. To add in another nine games to get to 48 could mean four games a week in 75% of those weeks. Hard, but possible.
The Winter Classic was to be held January 1 in Minnesota featuring the Wild against the St. Louis Blues, while All-Star Weekend was slated for Sunrise, Florida January 29-30. The league said it plans to return to these cities to host the events, but did not say when. A 48-game schedule doesn’t preclude a Winter Classic, but ensures no All-Star Weekend. However, odds are that it would also shelve the Winter Classic for this year.
There are no hard answers yet and the situation continues to evolve. However it appears to me that we are indeed looking farther into 2021 to start the next NHL season.