Now that the Stanley Cup has been awarded for the coronavirus-delayed and bubble-fulfilled 2019-20 NHL season, the league is looking forward to a new start – and it looks like they’re hoping for it to look a lot more like past seasons than the one they just completed. Commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL Network that the league is aiming to start its new season on January 1, play a full 82 game regular season schedule, and have fans in the stands at its arenas.
A January 1 start for the new season has been the target since the league and players association released their return to play plans in July. With the two month tournament to determine a champion completed, the hopes are to keep to that timeline, but remove the “bubble” aspect that defined the post-coronavirus pause season entirely. How to do so – and what safety measures to keep in place as COVID-19 continues to surge in numerous communities throughout the league’s footprint – is now up for discussion between the league and its players.
Having fans in the stands is a major goal for the league, which sees a higher proportion of its revenue derived from ticketing and in-person spending than other professional sports leagues.
“If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said in September. “It’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point, and by some point in time, maybe our buildings are open.”
Training camps for the upcoming season are allowed to open on October 15. Players will be tested twice-weekly for the coronavirus, and any players who see a positive test result must also undergo a cardiac screening before returning to play.
It is unclear whether the league will attempt to fit a full 82 game schedule into the abbreviated period of time following January 1 to return its playoffs timeline to the traditional late spring dates it has occupied. Generally, the season begins in October, with teams approximately halfway through their regular season schedule by the start of a new year. Also unclear are plans for the league’s Winter Classic series of games, which often include a January 1st edition.