An outlook for the 2021 NHL season: Changes due to the pandemic

Taylor Tarman, Contributing Writer

The next NHL season is slowly but surely creeping its way up to the starting line. With the season debuting on Jan. 13, there’s a lot for fans and players to be excited about, or so we think. With COVID reducing all fan participation, the five billion dollar franchise will most likely see significant cuts.

Last season, there was little to no opportunity for the NHL to profit from ticket sales, concessions, or events due to the pandemic, which is problematic, as the NHL is one the very few organizations that still relies on ticket sales to keep their franchise running. Other leagues such as the NFL and MLB rely more on the money they get from television, compared to anything else. Not only was the NHL struggling with money from little ticket sales, they were also struggling to fund the season while it was still going on. During the playoffs, the remaining teams stayed in the Edmonton Ontario, Canada bubble. The cost per day to have all players and staff in that bubble was about $5 million per day. As one can imagine, the NHL is not in a good spot financially, so how will the pandemic have an affect on the upcoming season?

In the best case scenario, there will only be 56 games, a reduction from their usual 82 games which’ll leave both players and fans upset. There have also been rumors of new divisions and team realignment being put in place to limit the amount of traveling the teams will have to do, as a measure to keep teams safe. This will not only limit the risk of COVID-19, but unite some rivalries that have been put in place over the years. For example, the infamous Detroit / Chicago rivalry, which has since been tamed due to Detroit moving to the Eastern conference, may now be rekindled. An example of what divisions may look like is shown below.

East: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.

Central: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning.

West: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Las Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, and St. Louis Blues.

Canada: Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks.

There is still some conflict in regards to St. Louis and Minnesota placement in these divisions. Also, the negotiations between certain players and their realignment is still undecided. These placements are up to the players to choose if they’re wanting to leave or stay with their current team.

Along with the new divisions, the league has purchased 10,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine in preparation for this upcoming season. The vaccine will be distributed to all players, coaches, and staff. Unlike the NFL, NBA, and MLB, these doses will allow teams to play without the risk of pausing their season once again. The doses will also keep each member of NHL, and their families safe from the coronavirus.

This new season of hockey is definitely one to look forward to. Regardless of the number of games, coronavirus protocols, and possible player realignments, this season truly will be something to behold. In the end, players will still celebrate, fans will still feel that same nail-biting adrenaline, and a Stanley Cup will be hoisted in the end.