The speculation on when next season will start for the Nashville Predators and the rest of the NHL has been all over the place in the last month.
With just a brief four-game stay in the Edmonton bubble for the Nashville Predators back in August, it feels like an eternity since we saw our favorite team take the ice for an actual game.
It was always the tentative plan that the 2020-21 NHL season would start on New Year’s Day of 2021, and the NHL is still pushing for that to end up happening.
There’s also been speculation that opening night of the regular season would be pushed back as far as mid-February. With so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial impacts of no fans in the arenas, this situation remains a fluid one.
According to a report from the Associated Press and Fox Sports, the league is staying firm in their push for a January 1 start date. The 2021 Winter Classic has already been postponed, along with the 2021 All-Star Game.
A ripple effect throughout the sports world
The NBA has already announced their start date for next season as December 22, putting more pressure on the NHL to come up with a concrete plan. But the international border crossings into Canada makes things much more complicated for the NHL as compared to the NBA.
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The talks about division realignment to keep Canadian teams in the same division is a smart idea to navigate around that obstacle of crossing the border.
As it pertains to the Nashville Predators, this would certainly shake up the Central Division to a degree with the removal of the Winnipeg Jets.
Who joins the division if this ends up happening? If you’re keeping it geographical, I could see Tampa Bay, Carolina and the Florida Panthers all being teams to join a temporary division with the Predators.
Can the Predators’ division get even tougher if Tampa Bay is added to the mix? I don’t even want to think about that right now.
It’s increasingly starting to look like there won’t be a full 82-game season as the pandemic doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and time is just running out to cram that many games into a three-month window.
You have to think about the safety of the players and staff first and foremost, and jamming so many games into that tight of a timeline will lead to more injuries and sloppy play on the ice.
The financial impact of no fans is something you can’t overlook, either. Ticket sales are a huge revenue stream for NHL clubs, and I’m just not sure the league is ready to start letting fans attend despite the fact that other leagues are allowing reduced amounts of fans to attend (NFL, MLS).
How it impacts the Predators
Teams like the Predators with rabid fanbases that regularly sell out their games will definitely feel the impact of having no fans in the stands. But it ultimately comes down to everyone’s health and safety while also figuring out a way to get the season going.
A major factor to keep in mind is to ideally get back on track to the normal league timeline for the 2021-22 season, which will bring the expansion Seattle Kraken into the mix.
Sooner or later the NHL has to get back to their normal calendar, and that’s why a reduced number of regular season games will most likely happen.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the NHL had to roll out a reduced regular season schedule (2012-13 season) which saw the Predators stumble through with a 16-23-9 record and a last place finish.
The Predators have a lot of newcomers coming into the fold, so a productive training camp will be critical for this new-look team that has Head Coach John Hynes entering his first full season at the helm.
Another thing to keep an eye on as a Predators fan is the likelihood that Pekka Rinne is entering his final season in Nashville. With a reduced number of games, who knows how many more starts we’ll see from Rinne in Predators gold.
If the NHL is able to pull off a January 1 start date, then expect training camp to open in mid-December for the 24 teams that participated in the Return-to-Play, while the other seven teams will get an extra week of preparation.
Those seven teams haven’t played a meaningful since March are really going to deal with some tough challenged to get back into game shape. With that said, the Predators aren’t that far off as they only played four playoff games and an exhibition game.
Next season will undoubtedly be just as odd as this past season was, with the hope that things will take a turn for the better so that fans can possibly return down the stretch or in the playoffs.