August 2, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

NHL, players reach a tentative agreement for 2020-21 season

The NHL and NHL Players’ Assn. have reached a tentative agreement on terms to begin the pandemic-delayed 2020-21 season, with a targeted date of Jan. 13 to start a 56-game season. Canada’s TSN network, however, said it’s possible that start date will slide a few days later because not all terms of the agreement have been settled.

The executive board of the NHLPA was scheduled to discuss the terms Friday night. The league’s Board of Governors was scheduled to convene via conference call during this weekend.

According to various media reports, training camp for the seven teams who missed the playoffs last season — a group that includes the Kings and the Ducks — would open Dec. 30. Training camp for the remaining 24 teams would open Jan. 3. The non-playoff teams had been told they would each get an extra week of training camp to help them get back up to speed as they return to the ice for the first time since the NHL shut down its operations March 12.

The NHL finished the 2019-20 season by staging the expanded, 24-team Stanley Cup playoffs in “bubbles” that were created in Edmonton and Toronto. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup on Sept. 28 in Edmonton.

The hub concept has not been ruled out for the upcoming season, according to TSN. The network also said players will be allowed to opt out of the season if they have concerns for their health or if a close family member is considered to be at risk. There won’t be any exhibitions before the season begins, and elaborate health and safety protocols will be in place.

It’s unclear whether the NHL will choose its previously stated option of temporarily realigning its divisions to form a seven-team all-Canadian division and have those teams play one another exclusively. That would allow play to resume while restrictions eliminate all but essential crossing of the border between the U.S. and Canada.

That realignment might be the only way to salvage some part of the season for the NHL, which has absorbed significant financial losses due to the impact of COVID-19 on the sports world. The NHL is the most gate-dependent of the four major North American professional leagues but it can generate revenues through TV and advertising if it can get the season going.

An abbreviated season — which almost certainly will start without fans in most cities — is better than no season at all. In 1994-95 and again in 2012-13, the season was cut from 82 games to 48 due to lockouts imposed by Commissioner Gary Bettman, creating precedent for a shortened season.