The AHL has confirmed it’s start date of February 5, 2021. There are no additional details other than the projected start date. It makes logical sense the the NHL will announce its start date someone soon, as speculation will be rampant following the AHL’s announcement.
But with the NHL still planning on targeting a January 1, 2021 start date, how will that sync up with the AHL? Usually both leagues are in sync. The logistics don’t necessarily make sense, as any player that doesn’t make the NHL roster will need to wait a full month until the AHL season starts.
Can It Work?
Can the NHL start on January 1? Possibly, after all the NHL arranged bubbles over the course of six weeks for a very successful Stanley Cup Playoffs. However given that it’s basically November already, we’d expect to hear some sort of news about their plans. As of now, the only thing we’ve heard is cancellations.
This doesn’t mean the NHL can’t make it work, they’d just need to have some sort of plan in place. Hockey isn’t like football, where the stadiums are open air. If the league wants fans –and they do– then there needs to be some progress with the COVID-19 pandemic other than this “continue life as if there is nothing going on” thing that seems to be going on.
Most Likely Plan
The most likely scenario is, given January 1 is only two months away, the NHL will probably push their start date to February as well. From a logistical stand point, it’s the only thing that works without an awkward gap in the schedules.
This move also gives the NHL time to plan out how to have at least a half season and playoffs. Remember, the league needs to finish up the playoffs before the Summer Olympics next year, so going into August isn’t an option.
Working backwards from the end of July, that means the playoffs begin at the beginning of June. That would mean a four month season for the NHL. The league would probably aim for 12-13 games per month for each club, or a 48-game season. They should be able to figure that out. After all, the league has a lot of experience figuring out shortened seasons.
The trick will be figuring out the COVID logistics. As we’ve seen with baseball and football, positive COVID tests are going to happen outside of the bubble. It’s safe to assume the NHL won’t go with a bubble for six months. As of now, all we can do is speculate.