Peeking into the NHL 2020-21 Season – What Will It Look Like?

The 2020 NHL Playoffs have so far moved without a hitch. The bubbles created in Edmonton and Toronto have been an exemplary success, with a grand total of zero coronavirus cases so far. What’s happening on the ice has also been of the requisite quality, with the fear of rusty players and subpar action being largely unfounded.

The Playoffs have given NHL executives the confidence of a successful return to action next season. According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league intends to play a full schedule 2020-21 season. The 104th edition may be pushed back as far as the end of the year as a result of Covid-19, however.

With the 2020 playoffs scheduled to end in October, the league is being forced to rejig dates for the new season, disrupting the usual October-to-April trajectory. As it stands, the new season will start on December 1, 2020.

Of course, this is all assuming that the playoffs and the offseason will not be disrupted by yet another wave of Covid-19. And that’s huge if considering how quickly things can change as a result of the virus.

If the postseason has to hit the pause button, for example, will the league be forced to push the start date for next season back yet another few months? And will Bettman’s promise of a full season be feasible (or even sensible) at that point?

What we do know is that the season is going to be seriously unpredictable. The Playoffs so far have delivered some eyebrow raisers: the Stars scoring like there’s no tomorrow, the exciting breakout of Canuck Thatcher Demko (just check out Mark Stone’s reaction!), and of course, the NY Islanders shock run.

We’re pretty sure there won’t be anything like a sure thing, and that we’re going to see quite a few surprises. Betting on next year’s results will be all over the place, whether you’re betting on the puckline or a 3-way game line. Just like in the 2020 Playoffs, expect to see some crazy results.

Covid-19 Precautions and Fan Attendance 

The league currently has several precautionary measures in place to protect players and staff. For example, participants are tested for the novel coronavirus when entering the NHL bubble, and all of those on-site are expected to follow social distancing advice and other health precautions.

It is widely expected that the league will maintain strict rules going into the 2020-21 season. The risk of infection and the cancellation of games would be catastrophic for the NHL, and the question of fan attendance is still very much in the air. How can the league safely organize a return of fans to the stadium?

It is very much a possibility that hockey will watch the NFL and react accordingly. For example, some have suggested that football will advise those over the age of 70 to avoid games for the time being. Alcohol sales may be curtailed or completely banned, both to avoid rowdy fans and long queues to the bathroom.

Measures may also be implemented irregularly, depending on individual state measures. In the NFL, for example, those in ‘safe’ states may allow some fans to attend games, while those experiencing social distancing measures would need to play in neutral or empty arenas.

It is thought that the NHL is taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude, hoping to learn from the experiences (and potential blunders) from other professional leagues. If welcoming fans proves a success for football, the NHL may be more inclined to open up hockey arenas.

Will TV Experience Improve? 

NHL executives will likely be pushing hard for a return of ticket-paying fans. The NHL as a professional league depends heavily on revenue from ticket sales and doesn’t generally do as well with cable or pay-per-view deals.

From a business perspective, in-arena attendance is crucial. But Covid-19 may force NHL’s hand, and they’ll have to refocus their attention towards television deals.

The problem with hockey, however, is that it’s not exactly a top-notch small screen product. Of course, advancements in technology have helped, but a simple fact remains: the puck is small and difficult to see on television. Substitutions are done haphazardly and in a fluid manner, often confusing non-attending fans.

There is a silver lining: if there is a real threat that hockey will need to continue with fans for the medium-haul, the suits will need to get together to improve the television product. There’s nothing like a crisis to fast-forward development.

But outside of all that, there’s one truth for all NHL fans: how glad we are that the players are back on the ice, no matter what the format.