NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested that the NHL would delay the start of the 2021-22 season to accommodate the conclusion of the 2019-20 season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, no one knows when a viable return date will be possible for the NHL.

NHL Return Delayed 2021 Season Start
NHL rinks have been closed since March 12 with a return date still unknown. (Image: Patrick Smith/Getty)

The start of next season could be pushed back two months to complete the current season and determine the Stanley Cup winner.

Approximately 15% of the NHL season has yet to be played.

“We have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start,” said Bettman. “There’s no magic for next season of starting in October as we traditionally do. If we have to start in November or December, that’s something that will be under consideration. We’re going to try to make good, prudent, careful judgments. This isn’t a race to be first back.”

Bettman shut down the NHL on March 12, one day after the NBA shuttered its league due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re going to have to take things one step at a time because the health and well-being of our players is paramount to anything we’re focused on,” said Bettman. “Our health concerns for the players really fit into two categories: One is obviously COVID-19, and two, whatever we’re going to do, we don’t want them playing games until they’re back in game shape. We don’t want anybody getting injured.”

The NHL expects to lose more than $1 billion in revenue if the season cannot continue.

Return to the Ice

The NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) created a joint task force called the NHL/NHLPR Return to Play Committee that includes Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) and John Tavares (Toronto Maple Leafs).

“Having the committee that’s been put together with the players is important so that we can get the feedback on the issues that are important to them, and how to resolve them, and that we can be communicating how we’re focusing on the things we think that need to be done,” said Bettman.

The NHL released a statement on Wednesday detailing specific steps or phases that everyone must go through before action can resume.

“Given recent developments in some NHL clubs’ local communities, we are now looking ahead to a Phase 2 of the transition period that would follow the currently recommended Phase 1 period of ‘self-quarantine’ by players and hockey staff,” said the NHL.

The NHL did not specify a date for when players and coaches should transition to Phase 2, which entails small group activities in NHL club training facilities, but they’re eyeing sometime in late May.

Best of Five?

With the delay pushing into May, the NHL targeted this summer as a potential return date. The Stanley Cup playoffs could be wrapped up by the end of August if teams return to the ice by mid-July.

Some of the proposed ideas to resume action include a shortened postseason with the best-of-seven format reduced. The first round, or even the first two rounds, could become a best-of-five series to accommodate the reduced schedule.

Bettman also explored neutral sites to host playoff games, such as Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario, and a rink in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan were also considered for a four-arena playoff tournament.

“We’re looking at all of our options,” said Bettman. “No decisions have been made. When we have something to say, we announce it.”

At the time of the shutdown, the Boston Bruins (44-14-12) held the best record in the NHL with 100 points. The Bruins currently sit on the #1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. The defending champion St. Louis Blues (42-19-10), were the top team in the Western Conference with 94 points.

According to its most-recent update, William Hill listed the Boston Bruins at 5/1 odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup. The St. Louis Blues were 11/1 odds to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.