For most of the offseason, a January 1 start date for the 2021 NHL season was the target. It seemed logical, even with the cancellation of the Winter Classic. The NHL would have been able to nationally televise a slew of games on NBC and NBCSN, competing only with a few NCAA Bowl games.
There seemed to be hope. Temporary realignment was, for all intents and purposes, a foregone conclusion. But then the owners wanted more concessions from the players in the CBA. Now with a month left until New Year’s Day, a January 1 NHL season start date just isn’t going to happen.
The big problem is the owners wanting more concessions from the players. They are saying that there will be more revenue lost, but they knew this going into the CBA negotiations over the summer. There were provisions put into the CBA to account for this. The owners signed off on it. It’s a signed contract – there should be no further negotiations here. I’m not going to cry for millionaire players, but this is negotiating on bad faith by the owners.
Aside from that, there are too many questions that need answering, and both sides have stopped talking. The NHL had hoped for a 60 game schedule with games starting on January 1. With that off the table, and a February date more and more likely, then we are looking at a 40-50 game schedule. Remember though, the NHL needs to finish their season by late July because of the Olympics.
Using a July 28 date for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, we work backwards. The full playoffs took about eight weeks, not including the play-in round. That means we would need to start the playoffs around June 1 to hit that date. That is four months of regular season play, or 17 weeks.
Assuming the league would have teams playing at most 12 games a month, that’s a 48 game regular season. That’s 2-3 games a week for teams. Complicating matters would be the temporary bubbles, in which teams would play 7-8 games over two weeks and then get a week break. Breaking that into the 17 week schedule, teams would wind up with five full bubbles (the math came out to fractions, and that’s anyone’s guess). That’s about a 40-45 game schedule.
There are rumors the owners would simply aim to cancel the season if the players don’t make additional concessions, but I don’t see that as a realistic possibility. The league can’t afford to do that with TV deals being negotiated this year. We will probably get some sort of update by the middle of December. I can’t see both sides letting this go into the holiday season and beyond.