There is light at the end of the tunnel.
There is a tentative agreement in place between the NHL and the NHL Players Association on a 56-game season that would begin on Jan. 13, according to Sportsnet and TSN.
Training camps are set to open Jan. 3 and no exhibition games in the cards. The plan is for the NHL to jump right in and begin what would be a heavily-condensed 2020-21 season. At time of publishing, the NHLPA was on a call to vote on the agreement, while the NHL Board of Governors is expected to meet this weekend to iron out any loose ends.
But there remains some hurdles to get something done between now and when the puck drops for Game 1, starting with how to get the seven Canadian teams ready for work by mid-January. The expectation was to have an all-Canada division to limit border crossing due to surges in COVID-19 cases in both Canada and the United States. If not approved by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the teams would relocate to the United States, likely keeping the divisions at status quo.
The format of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also be changed, according to Sportsnet. The top four teams in each division will make the field of 16, not only eliminating the wild card positions, but guaranteeing one team from each division will make the conference final.
If the NHL was to move forward with a season, it would have to be completed before July due to the 2021 Summer Olympics; NBC carries TV rights to both the Stanley Cup Final and the Olympics. A 56-game slate ensures the NHL can get something done within that time frame.
It’s also the best course of action if the NHL wants to start the 2021-22 season on time. Not only would the goal be to start on time in October to ensure a full 82-game season — and hopefully with fans in arenas should the coronavirus vaccine prove effective — but it would begin the timeline of getting the Seattle Kraken integrated into the league via the expansion draft.
As far as the Vegas Golden Knights are concerned, there is the matter of being just under $1 million over the salary cap. The Golden Knights have been reportedly in talks to make one more trade in order to become cap compliant — involving the likes of Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault and Marc-Andre Fleury — but no traction has been made in recent days involving a deal. Perhaps something will escalate now that there are dates.
It’s been a rough couple of months since the season ended, but it looks like hockey is indeed back. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the logistics out of the way.