Entering the holiday season without NHL games to watch in the evening remains another oddity in the never-ending oddity that is 2020. Although the pandemic that has upended life across the globe may finally be nearing its conclusion thanks to the arrival of a vaccine, the 2020-21 NHL season will still feel the pandemic’s effects.
Last week saw a flurry of activity regarding the NHL’s plans to hold an abbreviated season as the calendar flips to 2021.
Here’s a rundown of where things stand as we start a new week:
The good news
Perhaps the NHL learned from watching the MLB’s fiasco last summer and avoided lengthy public bickering about financial details in the midst of a pandemic. The negotiations between the NHL and its players’ association —that were mentioned here last week — wrapped up quickly. According to this report from The Athletic, both sides agreed to proceed into the upcoming season while honoring the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed in June, extending the collective-bargaining agreement that was already in place.
The current plan
That same article referenced above says that the NHL is aiming for a 56-game schedule which would begin on Jan. 13, 2021.
As recently as last Thursday, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the league was still aiming to begin training camps in a few weeks:
NHL and NHLPA continue to hammer away at details. Until there’s a vote, everything is subject to change. Two sides remain focused on Dec 31 camp start for non-playoff teams. Jan 3rd camp start for the rest of the league. Jan 13th start to 2020-2021 regular season.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 10, 2020
Since the Blackhawks were part of last season’s 24-team postseason format, that means training camp in Chicago would open on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021.
This may be the most complicated part of the plan.
All parties involved have been looking for ways to reduce travel as a safety measure. Additional consideration has been made for the continued closure of the border between Canada and the US. The likely solution that has emerged is a division of all-Canadian teams that would not have to travel south of the border while the closure still exists.
With Canadian teams in three of the NHL’s four current divisions, though, significant shuffling is required to make it all work. Multiple reports circulated last week about proposed divisions, multiple teams reportedly complained and some changes were reportedly made.
Following a call with the league’s Board of Governors last Wednesday, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reported the following proposed alignment:
- (Canadian Division) Canadiens, Canucks, Flames, Jets, Maple Leafs, Oilers, Senators
- Bruins, Sabres, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Capitals
- Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Panthers, Wild, Predators, Lightning
- Ducks, Coyotes, Avalanche, Stars, Kings, Sharks, Blues, Golden Knights
From a Chicago standpoint, the three things that jump out are:
- Renewal of the Red Wings rivalry
- Departure of the Blues
- Being in the same division as the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
LeBrun reiterated that this latest proposal is far from concrete. Over the weekend, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that some of the Blackhawks’ traditional Central Division rivals could still be on the move:
One potential solution to (temporary) re-alignment: MIN/STL to Pacific; DAL to Central— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) December 11, 2020
A mountain of questions remain to be answered. With the proposed start of training camp now just 2.5 weeks away, though, expect another avalanche of reports and updates in the upcoming days.