12/29/20 UPDATE: NHL is eyeing a start date of Jan. 13 to start the 2021 season, according to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan
Given the current state of the world, most of us are eager for a distraction.
We’ve got one question on our minds: when will the NHL season start again?!
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty worldwide, especially in the sports industry. It’s difficult to organize an NHL season that relies on areas full of fans, traveling teams, and high-contact gameplay. But the NHL is finding ways to bring the game to its hockey-loving fans. While next season might look a little different from previous years, it will still be the game that fans across the nation know and love.
According to NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, the target start date is Jan 1, although nothing is set in stone. A few obstacles stand in the way of a New Year’s Day puck drop, like training camp, season planning, and travel issues. The second wave of COVID-19 is hitting both the United States and Canada, threatening to delay the start date of January 1st, 2021.
We’ve already seen the cancellation of the annual Winter Classic and All-Star Game, which were both originally scheduled to take place in January. The NHL Players Association has yet to announce the date that training camps will open. If the NHLPA had decided to reopen the collective bargaining agreement, the NHL season might have been delayed further; to the relief of many fans, they decided not to ratify it.
The next season brings with it another feature: a new NHL team.
What New NHL Team Is Coming In 2021?
With the addition of the new team, the NHL will have a total of 32 franchises. Although the new team will not be part of the next season, they will play in the following year. Considering that the 2020-21 season has been delayed until the start of 2021, it’s unclear when the following NHL season will commence.
One interesting fact is that this city was home to the first team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. Could it be a sign of good fortune to come? That city was none other than Seattle, the owners of the newest NHL franchise.
What Will Seattle’s NHL Team Be Called?
Originally, Seattle had registered a list of 13 possible names. But one was an overwhelming fan favorite: the Seattle Kraken. It references a mythical sea creature made of massive tentacles. If that doesn’t inspire fear into the opposing NHL players on the ice, who knows what will?
Just like most things these days, reactions to the new name have been…divisive, to say the least. It’s spawned a slew of Internet memes, which can be a good or a bad thing. Given that merch sales have shattered previous records, it seems to have had a positive outcome. Either way, it isn’t a name that NHL players will forget.
What Division Will The Kraken Be In?
In the NHL, there are 2 conferences (Eastern & Western), each with 2 divisions (Metropolitan and Atlantic in the East, with Central and Pacific in the West). The Seattle Kraken will be part of the Pacific Division in the Western Conference.
What Months Does The NHL Season Run?
With a whopping total of 82 regular season games (not including playoffs or pre-season), hockey has one of the longest seasons of any sport. Before the start of the season, there is the NHL draft (which ran from Oct 6-7) and then the start date of free agency (Oct 9).
Once the season kicks off, it’s divided into three structures:
- Pre-season: During this time, games played do not count as actual wins or losses in the regular season. Exhibition games allow the head and assistant coach to try out rosters.
- Regular season: Few things match the excitement of when the first puck drop hits the ice. Regular season games determine which teams make it into the playoffs.
- Stanley Cup playoffs: The Stanley Cup finals take place at the end of the playoffs. In the 2020 finals, Tampa Bay Lightning took home the cup after a tense six-game series. The groundbreaking (or should we say, icebreaking) finale to the 2020 season was held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the home of the Edmonton Oilers.
Before the pandemic, seasons ran from October to April. Given that the next season will start in January (or later), it could conclude in late July. The timeline for this season remains uncertain. Given the cancellation of the Winter Classic and other traditional events, the season may have fewer games than in previous years.
Will The NHL Games Have Fans?
As a hockey fan, there’s been one question on your mind throughout the pandemic:
When can I see my favorite team play in my home arena again?!
Can fans attend games safely during a second wave of COVID-19? Not only is this important to the fans, but ticket sales are a crucial source of revenue for the NHL franchises.
Travel restrictions make it difficult for NHL players to attend hockey games in various states/provinces. Crossing the border from Canada to the United States during COVID-19 is no easy task (although it doesn’t contest with winning the Stanley Cup).
When NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, spoke at the Paley International Council Summit, he said that teams may be able to open in their home arenas. To accommodate the travel issue, teams will be in “modified bubbles”, a blended model where some teams will play at home, while others will travel in a bubble.
The NHL season won’t look the same without bleachers of cheering fans. So, what’s the answer to the million-dollar question, will fans be at the games? The league will try its best to allow safe fan attendance. Attendees may be required to show proof that they’ve been tested that day or within 48 hours.
With the start date of the next season still up in the air, both hockey fans and NHL players are eagerly awaiting further announcements. Only one thing is for sure: this NHL season will be unlike any other.
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