The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been exciting as they usually are, even without the Nashville Predators. But questions about the timeline for next season still loom.
The Eastern and Western Conference Finals will be set later this weekend, setting the stage for a berth to the Stanley Cup Final. The Nashville Predators sadly bowed out quickly in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Everything has mostly gone according to plan for the NHL in their Return-to-Play plan that was complex and complicated when first announced.
Now it gets even more complicated as the offseason will be like one we’ve never seen before. And the majority of the teams, including the Nashville Predators, sitting at home right now have to wonder when they’ll be back on the ice for next season.
The Predators already have a rocky offseason ahead with key free agents, key prospects having opportunities to play overseas, and the roster teetering on the brink of falling into a rebuild. Throw in the factor of an abnormal offseason in November and you have yourself a wild timeline of events.
December has always been floated around as the target to start next season. I’ve always thought that was overly ambitious and not realistic.
Even with no hiccups in the playoff schedule, other than two-day protest for social equality, the NHL is staying right on their timeline to complete the season with a Stanley Cup champion.
Now I implore you to go check out the excellent reporting from Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan on ESPN.com regarding the plan for next season, most notably when it will actually begin.
The biggest takeaway from this outstanding report from Wyshynski and Kaplan is the NHL is taking the very conservative approach to not rush into any rash decision. As we have come to learn in 2020, curveballs can be throw at you at any moment, and leagues have to be ready to adapt.
The most telling quote from the reporting is from an anonymous business team executive stated:
“We all realize an 82-game schedule for next season is a pipe dream. It’s just not going to happen.”
For the most part, the NHL has done a great job at adapting and not tainting the sanctity of the Stanley Cup. It hasn’t felt fluky at all during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Round Robin or the more traditional 16-team field.
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No concrete dates have been announced by the NHL, but December 1 was always the expectation. That’s less than three months from now, and we still have at least three more Game 7’s, followed by two conference finals and a Stanley Cup Final.
The turnaround for these teams from their respective Game 7 to the conference finals will be harsh as Sunday and Monday will drop the puck for those series.
Once this all comes to an end and the Stanley Cup is awarded, these players are going to need ample time to spend with their families, get refreshed and clear their heads. Moreover, front offices are going to have to act quickly in terms of dealing with free agency and prepping for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
How is all of this going to be done in just a couple months with a training camp beginning in mid-November? If the NHL pulls this aggressive timeline off, then I’ll be the first to admit I was flat out wrong.
Sorry, but I just don’t see it happening that quickly. Instead, I see a Winter Classic showdown to open the 2021 regular season as the best option. Even without fans, it will be a good showcase for the NHL on New Year’s Day, and they can shorten the regular season to around 70 games, even at the dismay of many fans.
If the NHL so chooses, they could even make the Winter Classic part of a tripleheader with day game, afternoon game and primetime outdoor game under the lights.
The hope was to never affect next season, and that’s why many pushed back on the Return-to-Play in the first place. But these are crazy times, and the NHL can’t play a full 82-game schedule next season without pushing deep into the summer and once again affecting the normal NHL timeline.
You also have to take into account that if the NHL has the option to eventually get fans back in the arenas in 2021, then they might be more inclined to have a shortened regular season to make it possible.
In the reporting it’s stated that an optimistic outlook thinks that fans can maybe starting coming through the gates again in mid-January. Getting fans back into arenas for a December 1 start date just doesn’t seem likely at all.
The international border between the United States and Canada makes things even more complicated when rushing to a start on December 1. There’s no indication that it’ll be resolved by then, or even in January for that matter. It’s why you can’t rush to a December 1 start date, and playing a shortened regular season in 2021 looks like the most viable option, unfortunately.
The only way to get back to normal (eventually) is to shorten next season so that it can end in June, and then get back on track for that offseason and the 2021-22 season.