NHL may temporarily realign teams for 2020-21 season

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins

The NHL had a successful conclusion to the 2019-20 season and that was thanks in large part to the league’s bubbles. With another season set to begin relatively soon (no date has been announced yet), the league could end up realigning its teams for the 2020-21 season as a result.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes that realignment could help ease travel restrictions between the United States and Canada in addition to mandated quarantines. Other factors being considered for the upcoming season, which will still be heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, are a reduced number of games and temporary hubs. 

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense,” Bettman told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “It may be that we’re better off – particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating – keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues.”

The league used bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton for this past season’s playoffs. However, Bettman doesn’t want to do another bubble(s) for an entire season even — even if it is a shorter campaign.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans (or) fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue,” Bettman said. “But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need.”

The NHL has said it is targeting a Jan. 1 start date for next season, but talks are still ongoing between the league and Players’ Association as to whether or not that will be the exact date.

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