Bill Daly, National Hockey League deputy commissioner, said the league is maintaining “flexibility” around an intended December 1 start for the 2020-21 season.
Several days after National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver said starting that league’s next season on December 1 “is feeling a little bit early to me,” Daly said in a new interview with NHL.com that the NHL will wait and observe before finalizing its schedule for next season.
“We have a tentative start date also of December 1, but the commissioner [Gary Bettman] has repeatedly said over time that we have some flexibility to push that date, that our objective is to be able to play games with fans in our buildings to the extent that’s possible,” Daly said.
“That certainly gives us flexibility to move back the start of our regular season, but we also have the benefit of being able to observe what happens over the next several weeks and months with respect to the fall sports and college sports and European leagues, how everything shakes out around the world, really, in terms of live sports and how they’re conducted,” he said.
The NHL is currently conducting its Stanley Cup Playoffs in quarantined environments in the Canadian markets of Toronto and Edmonton. And with the prior suspension of the season due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the league now faces a series of upcoming decisions with regard to how and when to start next season.
Daly said that, like the NBA, the NHL’s ultimate goal is to return to playing in local markets in arenas full with attending fans. But he added a variety of other scenarios, including hybrid solutions and partially filled arenas, remain on the table.
“We would love to be in a position where we could open on December 1 to full buildings in every one of our markets,” Daly said. “That may or may not be possible and we don’t control that, so you have to adjust to that reality. That adjustment could take a variety of forms. It could be pushing back the start of the season until that might be possible, or it might be opening to partial buildings in either all the markets or a portion of the markets.”
In the meantime, Daly praised both the current level of play in the two NHL bubbles and the operational success of the environments, which continue to yield no positive tests for Covid-19.
“I’m very, very pleased that the protocol procedures we put together seem to be working,” he said. “I think the tournament has been very successful. Obviously, it’s a unique environment for the players and the clubs, but I think everybody has embraced the opportunity. I think the hockey has been incredibly good for the players, a large number of which were forced to take several months off from hockey training. So, to this point, very, very pleased and we understanding we still have a little more than a month to go, but so far I’m very pleased.”