NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that the league is planning to run a full, 82-game season during the 2020-21 campaign.
According to NHL.com's Dan Rosen, Bettman said the following regarding next season: "We are planning a full 20-21 season. ... If we run a little later than usual that will be one of the consequences."
The 2019-20 NHL season was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it is set to resume Aug. 1 with a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton.
Since the last possible day of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final is scheduled for Oct. 2, the 2020-21 season will likely start later than usual and may not begin until December at the earliest.
On Friday, the 2019-20 restart plan was officially approved by the NHL and NHLPA, and the two sides also agreed to a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
The 2019-20 season began in early October 2019, but early October will function as the start of the offseason this year. The 2020 NHL draft is scheduled for Oct. 6 and 7, and free agency is set to begin one week after the end of the Stanley Cup Final.
If the 2020-21 season begins in December, it will still make for a truncated offseason, but starting any later than that could make it difficult to play an 82-game slate.
Even if the season does start in December, it will likely mean an increased amount of back-to-backs and sets of three games in four nights, which would take a toll on the players and could conceivably increase injury risk.
If playing all 82 games in 2020-21 is deemed impossible by the NHL at some point, the league has experience of adjusting its season after the shortened schedule this year and the 48-game regular season in 2012-13 because of a lockout.
The league will also be desperate to avoid further knock-on effects to the 2021-22 season, which will see players participate in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics if that event is able to be held.