The 2021 NHL season might look really, really weird

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

If recent NHL rumors and reporting are of any indication, the 2020-21 season might look a whole lot different than what we’re used to.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is currently no (new) NHL games on your television, at your local sports bar, or even in arenas across North America.

Why is that? Well, because unlike basically every other season in your or my lifetime, the season hasn’t started yet.

After running a successful Bubble split between Edmonton and Toronto, the league is doing everything in its power to hopefully get the 2020-21 season off the ground with as little opportunity for error as possible – even if the 2020 part of the 2020-21 season is used in name only.

That’s right, in the league’s calls to both the NHLPA executive board call and to their Governors – as reported by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun – representatives suggested a number of ideas both new and established that could seriously impact the forthcoming season for better or worse.

Shall we break them down?

1. January 1st remains the target date to open the season.

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Right from the jump, this is not a new idea.

It’s been suggested a few times that the chances of a 2020 start to the season were few and far between and that the season could instead start as late as February, which *shivers* would really stink for hockey fans and writers alike. By remaining cautiously optimistic that a January 1st start is still very much in play, the league is at least showing some confidence that they are working towards a viable solution.

Remember, the NBA, NHL, and college football conferences like the Big 10 announced their return to play roughly a month before they officially started, so it’s entirely possible there could be no news today, no new news tomorrow, and a full-on schedule dropped Saturday afternoon.

2. Four new divisions

Another idea relayed by LeBrun is the concept of a one-time realignment for the 2020-21 season, with three American divisions – an adjusted Pacific, Central, and Atlantic conference, if you will – and a brand new, all-Canadian division composed of all seven of its teams.

Under this model, teams would play two-to-three games in a row versus the same teams a la the MLB in an attempt to limit travel and avoid the added opportunities for exposure typically associated with city to city travel.

Now, this idea is a bit harder to dissect because it’s still a bit too vague to evaluate.

In theory, the MLB’s model was much less effective than the singular Orlando Bubble used by the NBA. Roughly one-third of the league’s teams experienced some sort of COVID-19 exposure, and a number of games were either rescheduled or outright canceled because of it.

Then again, the NBA Bubble wasn’t exactly great for the players either, as members of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat had to be quarantined without their family for 95 days just to finish eight regular-season games and a four-round playoff. Even if the NHL decides to do a 41 game regular season with teams playing five games a week, that would result in two-plus months of isolation just to get through the regular season before we even get to a hypothetical playoff.

Could the NHL opt to follow an improved version of the MLB model before initiating another bubble(s) for the playoffs? Maybe so.

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Ultimately, any NHL rumors and reports about the forthcoming season have to be taken with a grain of salt for the foreseeable future, as things are beyond up in the air and subject to change at a moment’s notice. While this can feel beyond disheartening, it’s at least encouraging that the league’s calls to their players and governors didn’t have bad news – a rare treat in this otherwise disheartening calendar year.