This offseason has felt longer than most, and with the NBA picking a start date, it may be a matter of time before the Montreal Canadiens and NHL get theirs.
In another universe, the Montreal Canadiens have gone through their first month of the 2020-21 season. Perhaps Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson have gone off to a good start, while the experimental tandem of Carey Price and Jake Allen is exactly what the organization needed. Maybe Alexander Romanov is settling in well, showing clear signs of all the hype he generated before signing that entry-level contract. Unfortunately, we’re still talking about another universe.
It hasn’t been as long as usual offseasons, but it’s felt like it. In total, we’re sitting at day 39 as the Tampa Bay Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup on September 28th. Since then, there’s been the draft seeing Kaiden Guhle and the rest of the 2020 NHL Draft Cass join the Montreal Canadiens while Marc Bergevin brought in new faces and extended old ones (shoutout to Brendan Gallagher).
That said, there is still no clear indication of when the NHL will return for the 2020-21 regular season.
The initial Return to Play Plan had the target date set at early December. As the playoffs went on and ended, talks of a January start were floating around, and now hockey minds are leaning on that start taking place in February. How that’s going to take place with the goal of playing 82 games and going on at a quick enough pace to end such that the 2021-22 season can start on time is beyond me. Cutting things out, such as bye weeks and the All-Star Game, are ways to combat that, but it will come with a lot of sacrifice for the players rest-wise.
And then there’s the competition angle of it all. The National Basketball League has a confirmed start date. According to several NBA insiders, including Shams Charania of The Athletic, the NBA Player’s Association has agreed to a December 22nd start.
Here’s the stinger for the NHL: The NBA ended their season before the NHL did and are starting before the NHL can.
The idea of the NHL competing with the NBA in a general sense is a losing battle every time, but it’s going to be unfortunate to turn on the TV and see basketball but no hockey. Does this force the NHL’s hand a bit to an earlier start? It’s definitely possible.
One issue the NHL has that the NBA doesn’t occur between Canadian vs. American teams. The Toronto Raptors are the only Canadian team in the league, so it’s easy to relocate them for the season, similarly to what happened with the Toronto Blue Jays in the MLB. The NHL, on the other hand, has seven, including the Montreal Canadiens.
This is why we’ve seen things such as an “All Canadian Division” being promoted to, at the very least, get the season started. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gary Bettman and the NHLPA now start to push hard on a plan, to begin with, one of the Big Four already having one ready to go.
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There is the avenue that the NBA’s start date has no impact on the NHL, and we wait until February for games. Hopefully, that’s not the case, and if it is, it’ll be tough to see a scenario where the Montreal Canadiens and the other 30 teams in the league play 82 games. Perhaps it’s another 48-game schedule, similar to the 2012-13 shortened season, that we have in store.