After the suspension of play on March 12, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was uncertainty as to whether or not the NHL season would resume. By the end of May, a framework to resume play was put into place and the season ended up resuming in a bubble atmosphere. The league successfully completed a 68-71 game regular season and culminated with the Tampa Bay Lightning as Stanley Cup Champions.
The plan moving forward is for the league to start the 2020-2021 season on May 1. However, with a second wave of Covid-19 which could possibly be worse than the first through the coming winter months, that date and the future of the season and beyond is in question. There will be hockey, clearly, but how many games and under what circumstances is still a work in progress.
A shortened schedule under the same type of conditions as last season is likely to happen. Perhaps teams can play in their own facilities or a hybrid under a realignment which will limit travel. The goal to have fans in the seats at some point this season, particularly for the post season, is now completely up in the air.
Part of the problem is that nonessential travel is closed between Canada and the United States, which means possibly teams located in Canada will only be able to play games against each other. Now, it brings another question to the table. How can a fair, competitive schedule be put into action in that scenario? What does it happen if the current situation does not improve by the time the post season arrives and a Canadian team is scheduled to face a team from the United States? Surely a 14-day quarantine won’t work in such a scenario.
The potential good news is that a vaccine appears to be on the horizon for distribution within the next several months. If that is the case, players can get vaccinated and the travel across the Canada/US border should be permitted. The NHL could get away from the hub, hybrid or perhaps another bubble situation and resume to normalcy.
The economic situation across the league has taken a hit and likely will continue to do so this season. However, with the expansion Seattle team set to hit the ice in 2021-2022, that will help the cause. But the biggest thing that will help is to simply allow fans back into the arenas. After such a long time without fans in arenas, once the word is that everything is safe to return, expect packed arenas each and every night.
Yes, the NHL will get back to normal. It very well might not be any time this season, but hockey will resume and expect a fresh start in 2021-2022.