The NHL is formulating plans for the 2020-21 season, but there is reportedly disagreement about whether it is worth it at all.
According to Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, multiple owners have argued the NHL will be "better off financially if it shuts down next season" instead of playing in empty arenas as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly disagrees with this mindset, claiming that would do more long-term damage to the sport similar to the result of lockout seasons.
Though there could still be a shortened season, league sources reportedly believe 48 games will represent the "absolute minimum."
Empty arenas and additional lost revenue could be a significant concern for the NHL after the pandemic caused massive changes to the 2019-20 season. After the league paused action in March, it resumed more than four months later with a modified postseason in two bubbles in Canada—in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta—that ended with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in September.
Bettman has previously said game-day income accounts for about 50 percent of total revenue for the NHL, per Sports Business Daily.
Local restrictions still prevent arenas from operating at full capacity, but the league is hoping to have fans return to games at some point in the 2020-21 season.
"I think the ultimate goal is to end up with fans in the arenas," an NHL source said. "I don't think we'll get to capacity, but I think we'll have enough socially distanced fans."
One plan could include starting the season in a "hybrid bubble" with four hubs—three in the United States and one for Canadian teams. Players wouldn't be restricted to hotels, but it would at least limit travel for several months.
This would be a temporary situation before opening things up later in the season.
The NHL at the very least wants spectators for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which would return to the usual 16-team format after 24 teams made the postseason last year.
"We want to make it as traditional a tournament as we possibly can," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "We want to maintain the competitive integrity of the playoffs, for sure."
There are still clearly a lot of moving parts, and nothing has been finalized for the upcoming season, only featuring a target date of Jan. 1, 2021, and a goal to complete the season before the Tokyo Olympics, which get underway in July.
"It's premature to be drawing up plans [when] you don't have a real good idea as to whether they're practical, feasible or going to be put in place," Daly said.