When the pandemic first hit the National Hockey League, forcing the sports giant to shutter its doors in the middle of the 2019 - 2020 regular season, the one refrain you consistently heard from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was that the league was committed to playing a full season in 2020-2021 and that they were committed to doing so without any delays.
The reality of the pandemic has not been kind to the NHL however and the league has now been forced to drastically alter that initial plan as they prepare for what could be an extremely difficult season in 2020-2021 both economically and logistically. The league and its general managers were all on a call on Friday and they discussed some of their biggest issues moving forward, and some interesting tidbits have begun to leak out from that meeting over the weekend.
Rangers insider Larry Brooks reports today that although the league remains committed to attempting an 82 game season, they have acknowledged that this is no longer a likely outcome. From Brooks:
The objective remains to play a full 82-game season with full arenas, but the league understands that is not likely.
How unlikely? Well Toronto columnist Steve Simmons reports that the league is unlikely to play anything more than a greatly reduced 56 games. From Simmons:
Don’t expect a season much longer than 56 games.
That is a big drop off in games and would more closely resemble the shortened season we just had as a result of the pandemic rather than an actual normal NHL season. If you think that is bad for the fans however, the ramifications on the league's players will be even more drastic given that they are now expected to take a gigantic pay cut. According to Simmons players should not expect to earn more than 54% of their salaries this upcoming season, a brutal blow to anyone making a living on a salary regardless of how wealthy they may be, and that will be further dwindled by the increased escrow that is expected to be negotiated by the league as a result of the massive financial difficulties the team owners are facing as a result of having empty arenas around North America.
A return to normalcy with fans in the buildings would solve a lot of these problems, but no one truly knows how far we are from that becoming a reality once again.