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NHL PLANNING FOR A FULL 82-GAME SEASON AND STANDARD PLAYOFF FORMAT IN 2020-21

Despite not knowing when the 2020-21 season will commence, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman commented on Saturday that the League remains committed to a full 82-game season, complete with a standard 4-round, best-of-seven playoff format next season.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic does complicate matters, at least when it comes to the planning phase of the upcoming season, but with the NHL showing that it has the capability of keeping a potential COVID-19 outbreak under control throughout these Stanley Cup playoffs, there is a growing sense that we may indeed see hockey in 2020-21 - even if the NHL does have to get a little more creative to ensure that it happens.

"I anticipate playing a full season next season, 82 games, full playoffs," the Commissioner said. "How and when we do that is something that we don't all have enough information to make any decisions, and anything would just be sheer speculation. Our goal is to get back to as greatest sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented."

Whether that includes the season beginning with a bubble-like setup in hub cities, like we're seeing now, or setting up four new region-based divisions with teams limited to playing strictly within their own division remains to be seen.

One issue that may arise is that the NHL hopes to avoid playing deep into the summer next season. With the rumoured December 1st start already reportedly in jeopardy of being pushed back to January, it will mean a very congested schedule to ensure that the playoffs begin as close to late April or early May as possible.

"My preference would be to stay out of summer as much as possible," Commissioner Bettman said. "Our fans typically like watching us through the fall, winter and into the spring, and it's always been a goal to be done by the end of June. Playing in late July, August and September was important to do now. If we can avoid it we will, but it's premature to have an answer other than we understand the issue and we're going to try to deal with it as best we can."

The Commissioner has some reasonable concerns with how the pandemic may impact present and future plans, but plans to remain as flexible as possible to ensure that hockey resumes in 2020-21, with as normal a feel as can be achieved.

"There is still so much we don't know," the Commissioner said. "Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States is going to be open by a date certain. Nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be. Nobody can tell me whether or not our arenas will be able to have either socially distanced or fully occupied buildings."



There seems to be a lot of optimism from the NHL regarding the 2020-21 season. Whether that means they're just trying to remain positive in an uncertain situation, or that the pre-planning has yielded some solid ideas to help mitigate any risks is unknown. Bettman's commitment to remain fluid and just allow things to happen and deal with things as they come is quite reassuring. Maybe it's not one plan that will work. Perhaps it will be a combination of a few different plans, as the Commissioner alluded to in his statement.

"How we start doesn't necessarily mean that's how we have to finish," he said.

Given the NHL's flawless execution of their Stanley Cup playoff plans, and the fact that there have been precisely ZERO positive COVID-19 tests during the entire stint in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles, I think we can all join Commissioner Bettman in being optimistic about the near-future of our great game.

MIKE ARMENTI
SEPTEMBER 20, 2020  (18H45)