Though there are plenty of hurdles the NHL is facing before they can return for a 2020-21 season, a fluid plan is starting to take shape. Flexibility is going to be key, as owners have made it clear they want fans in seats as soon as it will be allowed, but local regulations are going to drive how the NHL’s plan adapts.
It seems unavoidable that the season will at least have to start in some kind of bubble system, though the hope is to be less strict than the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto. Instead, the league will have to move teams into “hub” cities — locations where coronavirus spread is under better control (presumably) and location regulations allow for the gathering of multiple teams indoors.
Michael Russo of the Athletic reported that the Anaheim Ducks are among those pitching the league to become one of these hub cities.
The Ducks are pushing hard and putting on a compelling case. There are multiple hotels within three or four miles of Honda Center, including the recently-opened JW Marriott and the soon-to-be-opened Westin. But there’s also a bunch of hotels about 12 miles up I-5 near the Ducks’ brand-spanking-new practice facility (Great Park) in Irvine. So, perhaps it makes sense to host the teams there instead of in Anaheim. As for the Honda Center, it has held multiple multi-team events, so it should be able to accommodate four teams at the arena on an event level (including the home and visitors’ dressing rooms) that’s about to complete a total renovation.
Part of the league’s return to play plan centers on the closed border, which will result in an all-Canadian division next season. This temporary re-alignment would mean that the Ducks would likely be host to a new-look Pacific Division, which Russo speculates would include Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose and Vegas.
Just about all of those teams are also among potential contenders to play host to the start of the season. The Bay Area will not be allowing gatherings anytime soon, and Denver saw a huge growth in new coronavirus cases throughout October. Los Angeles and St. Paul have interest, but for different reasons are unlikely to become a serious contender.
Vegas was nearly a winner for the 2020 post-season hosting duties, but a late spike of cases in Nevada knocked them out of the running. But T-Mobile Arena is state-of-the-art, and players love Vegas. Dallas might also become a front-runner, as Texas is allowing fans, a unique advantage in terms of revenue, but still a potential health hazard.
The hybrid hub system would allow for teams to cycle in and out of the hub, spending a few weeks in the hub at a time and practicing at home during the off-weeks. Russo explains that there would be two games per day, with teams playing four games per week. It’s also possible the season is shortened, allowing playoffs to wrap up this summer.
Because of the closed border limiting international travel, each division will probably only compete in-division, to eliminate any potential advantage of the points system by allowing US teams to play each other.