When the 2021 NHL season begins this week, a handful of teams will have the ability to host fans at their indoor rinks in accordance with local health guidelines.
But the reality is most games this year will not be played in front of fans, as was the case inside the two Canadian “bubbles” in which the league hosted the 2020 playoffs after the coronavirus pandemic upended the 2019-20 regular season.
Another bubble was not on the table, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday, and teams will play a 56-game, modified division-only schedule in home arenas. The lack of fans, however, means the financial losses incurred by the league and each of its 31 clubs will be significant.
"The magnitude of the loss starts with a 'B,' " he said on a Zoom conference call with league media. "We're out of the 'M' range and into the 'B.' "
Indirectly or directly, Bettman said, fans going through the gate accounts for roughly 50% of the league’s revenue. He added that the NHL and teams would lose less money if they didn’t play this upcoming season.
“Let me make something really clear: We’re coming back to play this season because we think it’s important for the game, because our fans and our players want us to, and it may give people – particularly those that are back in isolation or where there are curfews – a sense of normalcy and something to do,” the commissioner said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)
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“The owners unanimously are OK with that because they know how important it is for our fans and for the game.”
All of the teams and their owners have the financial capability to survive the season, Bettman said, although “we have made some financial arrangements that make sure our cash flow is what it needs to be."
“While there’s an economic consequence to playing the season, all of the owners of our clubs are in a position to weather it and we have no concerns in that regard,” Bettman said, “other than that everybody is going to lose a lot of money to do this.”
Here is what else the NHL commissioner said during his hourlong availability.
Dallas Stars coronavirus update
League deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is still trying to determine the cause of the Dallas Stars' outbreak that infected six players and two staff members. The team’s facility has been closed since Saturday.
It was a “classic outbreak” due to a “variety of factors,” according to Daly, who added that the league hopes the spread within the organization has ceased. The Stars medical staff was convening Monday night to determine when they’d be able to play.
Dallas will not begin its season until Jan. 19 until the earliest, although it’s possible the team might need to wait until a later date.
One thing seems clear: There will be no steadfast set of circumstances or rules regarding roster numbers.
Daly said: “We don’t want situations where clubs are playing significantly short-handed,” adding that teams will have access to an expanded taxi squad (four to six players per team).
San Jose Sharks, Santa Clara County update
While the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers made headlines for having to leave their home of Santa Clara County in order to finish their season, as the county enforced COVID-19 guidelines that made gathering impossible, the San Jose Sharks have confronted a similar challenge.
Like the Niners, the Sharks have relocated to Arizona, where they have conducted training camp and will start their season if they must. Daly and Bettman said the league is meeting with county officials Tuesday.
The Sharks will play their first “designated” home games on Feb. 1. Those contests will take place at alternate sites if they cannot return to SAP Center at San Jose by then.
“It’s a difficult situation for the club,” Bettman said. “It’s a difficult situation for the players.”
A rendering of the outdoor rink at Lake Tahoe. (Photo: Brian Walker)
NHL to play two outdoor games at Lake Tahoe
It won’t be an official Winter Classic, but the NHL will play two outdoor games at Lake Tahoe in February, Bettman confirmed.
The Colorado Avalanche will play the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, Feb. 20 and the Philadelphia Flyers will play against the Boston Bruins the next day. Both contests will take place on a rink constructed on the lakefront 18th fairway of the golf course at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort.
“We were looking for a picturesque, magnificent place with a lake and mountains that are snow-covered,” Bettman said. “It had to have a location where you could put a rink for that visual.”
Bettman added that other locations with similar vistas were considered, but Tahoe offered a resort option near a major airport that could accommodate the number of people required to make the operation possible.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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