By Jerry Wein
NBA training camps are already underway and the league is set to kick off its 2020-21 season in just a few weeks.
But the NHL is still stuck trying to navigate through negotiations setting up an unprecedented season. The league and NHLPA have been at an impasse for much of this strange offseason.
While the latest mid-January timeline is good news for those hoping to see hockey during these winter months, there remain a number of hurdles that the NHL and NHLPA will have to clear (and quickly) in order to set up a new season.
Chances of a full 82-game season are all but dead at this point, and if the NHL hopes to play a sizable schedule (50-60 games) then they’re running out of time. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has already said that he doesn’t want the playoffs to carry well into the summer like they did in 2020. With the NHL playoffs and Olympics both being handled by NBC networks, it’s likely that the league is looking at early-mid July (the Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23) as its targeted end date for the 2021 playoffs.
Given the need for a multi-week training camp period and likely a short preseason, the NHL is likely looking at a minimum 3-4 week prep window after a deal is agreed to, meaning a mid-January start should be considered very optimistic at this point.
When the league played a lockout-shortened campaign in 2013, the season began on January 19 and saw a 48-game season played ahead of the playoffs, which wrapped up in late June. With that timeline in mind, if the league doesn’t agree to a deal over the next few weeks, they’ll likely have to start cutting the number of games they hope to play and/or get very creative with the scheduling in order to come up with a viable and respectable season. This could be further complicated by a projected spike in COVID-19 cases over the holiday season.
Keep in mind that the league will also likely want to have a built-in grace period in between the regular season and playoffs in order to allow teams to make up any postponed games throughout the season.
Here are some details on the CBA situation, courtesy of Forbes:
“The NHL is asking the NHLPA to agree to one of two proposals. The first proposal would see the portion of salaries placed in escrow increase to 25% for the 2020-21 season while players deferred 20% of their salaries. Alternatively, the league is asking the players to defer 26% of their salaries next season while the escrow figure stays flat at 20%. In the current deal, the players agreed to a 20% escrow figure and a 10% deferral of salary.”