Due to COVID-19, the NHL 2019-20 season was one of the longest in its history. It lasted for almost a year ending on September 28th, 2020. If that’s any indication, it should get fans of the sport worried about what the next season will be like. This at the time when the pandemic is more likely to stay throughout 2021. Will it disrupt the games? And what can fans expect from the coming season?
Molly Brownstein is a Philadelphia native and a fan of all things related to sports in the City of Brotherly Love. Molly has been a lifelong Eagles and Flyers fan, dedicating much of her free time to enjoying the excitement of the NHL and NFL franchises whenever she can. Like all other NHL fans, she is hoping that the pandemic will not interfere with the next season the way it has halted the previous season for five months.
NHL Plans for 2021 Season
Right off the bat, the start of the 2021 season was postponed from December 1st, 2020 when it was originally planned to kick off to January 1st, 2021. That got all fans worried including Molly Brownstein. “It makes one wonder,” she says, “about what the NHL plans for the 2021 season will be like. And frankly, we’re all concerned about what the next season has in store for our beloved league, teams, players, and games.”
One of those main concerns on everyone’s mind is whether fans will be allowed to watch the games in the arenas again at some point. There are good signs that this might happen during the season. But of course, many questions still remain unanswered. Among them the question of capacity. Will the arenas have 20% capacity as some people are floating? Or will it be 50% or even more?
With the raging pandemic, social distancing still remains a top priority for the safety of everyone, including the fans themselves. But since concerts and public events are already promoting and booking for the spring and summer of 2021, that gives NHL fans hope. There’s a good chance that they might be able to watch their beloved games live right there in their home arenas.
Next Season Format
It’s no secret that the 2019-20 NHL season was fraught with disruptions and hurdles. At some point, there was even talk that the season might be canceled. According to Molly Brownstein, both financial and health concerns made it difficult for the games to continue which explained the five-month hiatus in the middle of the season. Those two concerns are co-related. Because of health concerns, fans couldn’t attend the games in the arenas which resulted in financial losses for the teams.
Thankfully, the pandemic restrictions in the coming year will be less rigid. The fact that people will be allowed into venues even at limited capacity makes a great difference not just for the game but for the players themselves. The good news is many states including Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas, and Arizona are already open to allowing the fans back in. And there are signs that as the season progresses, there will be more relaxed restrictions not just in terms of arena capacity but also on the Canadian border. The COVID-19 vaccines are one of those signs that the next NHL season will be much better than the last one.
Expectations for NHL 2021 Season
The start of the NHL 2021 season is still undecided, notes Molly Brownstein. There was talk about January 1, 2021, as a tentative starting date. but as the date draws nearer, it might be pushed back to the middle of January or even the beginning of February 2021.
A delayed start could also mean that instead of having an 82-game season as usual, the NHL 2021 season could be cut down to 65 or even 48 games. That could also impact the Stanley Cup playoff tournament as well. From the way things stand right now, there could be as few as 16 teams taking part in the playoffs. Will that make the tournament less competitive than what the fans hope for and expect? Many people don’t think so. There’s hope still that the postseason will get extended as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 making it safer to attend the games in person.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics is another issue here. Since it will start on July 23rd, 2021, the NHL would want to wrap up the season before the Olympics begin. This calls for flexibility in planning, but it also puts the NHL fans on an edge not knowing what to expect, says Molly Brownstein.
Needless to say, daily testing was an important factor in the 2019-20 NHL season. It is estimated that during the summer of 2020, more than 34,000 COVID-19 tests were administered. Thankfully, not a single one of these tests returned positive. This helped the prolonged season finish successfully, if not belatedly.
Naturally, all these tests are costly which adds to the financial strain on the team and the league. But since it played a major role in keeping the season going, there’s no doubt that frequent testing will continue well into 2021.
Molly Brownstein on COVID-19 Risks for the New Season
Because of the COVID-19 health risks and the issue of the Canadian border, a new plan is being floated to help the new season go as smoothly as possible. That new plan involves what’s called a hybrid bubble. It will require plenty of diagnostic testing for everyone involved before entering the hub.
According to Molly Brownstein, the pandemic might also require teams and players to train in local facilities with strict social distancing rules in place. This would also call for high standards of hygiene and cleaning to put the minds of the players at ease. As for players and team members who leave the hub, they too will have to be tested and practice social distancing during their off time.
Molly Brownstein is a life-long Philly sports fan. When she is not cheering on her Eagles or Flyers, Molly works with local small businesses in Philadelphia to help them manage their social media presence. She currently runs social media for a local Philadelphia business called Nuts to You, a popular gourmet chocolate and candy shop with locations all over the city.