As the NHL continues to contemplate how and when to complete the 2019-2020 season, the league is considering a plan that wouldn't push the start of the 2020-21 season back to December.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic notes nothing has been decided yet, but the idea has traction as it would allow for the completion of a full 82-game season with drastic rescheduling:
"Wiping out All-Star weekend, the bye weeks, shortening the Christmas holiday break and basically tightening the entire schedule matrix wherever possible. The result would push the regular season into May and playoffs into July."
The NHL has been on an indefinite hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic since March 12, promising to return "as soon as it is appropriate and prudent."
Training camps typically open up in early September with the regular season commencing during the first week of October. With no clear timeline to finish the current season, league executives have little choice but to prepare for a significant delay to next year.
According to LeBrun, moving the 2020-21 season opener to December would allow the NHL to complete the 2019-20 season by October if needed, with a shortened offseason to address free agency and various housekeeping needs around the league. The offseason itself may only be a few weeks under the revised schedule.
The other reason for pushing back the start date is to ensure the public can attend games—which LeBrun notes is just as vital for the league's bottom line as it is for fanbases around the NHL:
"By the time the NHL opens up shop for 2020-21 season, most teams can’t even think of starting without fans in the building. Some organizations have told me they would lose less money by simply staying dark. Hence, they’re hoping a December start will be enough time for the world to be in a better place with the pandemic."
Some executives also told LeBrun a January start may be necessary, however that would severely decrease the odds of a full 82-game season, as the league used a truncated 48-game schedule following the 2012-13 lockout in which games began on January 19.
More likely to be discussed is a plan to begin the 2020-21 season without fans in the stands with the hope that becomes possible as the campaign progresses.
In any case, the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the sports calendar are already being felt as a December start would see the regular season run through May with the playoffs expected to run through July. That would go onto impact the 2021 offseason and potentially the start of the 2021-22 season.