Although the expectations for most teams in the National Hockey League is that they will have to proceed through the 2021 regular season without any fans in attendance, there have now been two teams that have revealed their intention to do quite the opposite.
Over the past several hours, since the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players Association announced they had formalized an agreement for a 56 game season beginning on January 13th 2021, both the Dallas Stars and the Florida Panthers have indicated their intention to have fans in attendance when the season begins.
In the case of the Dallas Stars, team president and CEO Brad Alberts has indicated that the Stars plan to have 5,000 fans in attendance when they kick off the regular season. The Stars held what they coined as socially distanced viewing parties inside the American Airlines Arena back in September when the Stars were competing inside the bubble during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they plan to use a similar road map to host fans when their season begins in January.
In the case of the Florida Panthers it would appear that there has been no determination in regards to how many fans will be allowed to attend their games. It may be possible however to draw some early conclusions from what the state of Florida has allowed in other sports, for example the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association will be playing out their season in Tampa Bay and are expected to host as many as 3,800 fans at their games. That would appear to be in a similar ballpark to the number that the Stars are expecting so perhaps the Panthers can expect a number that will be somewhere between those two, although admittedly that is purely speculation at this time.
The big question that stems from this news of course is how will this impact the remaining teams in the National Hockey League? One can imagine a case in which this proves to be a resounding success, or a resounding failure, for both franchises, setting the example for the other franchises in the league in the process. Will the ability for other NHL teams to host their own fans depend on the success of these early adopters? I certainly wish them all the success in the world if that is going to be the case.