National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman gave a State of the League address on Saturday during a press conference prior to the Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, as has been tradition. Among the standout comments he made was that the 2020-21 season could potentially start as late as January, though there was no definitive answer on when it would actually start in the first place.
Bettman noted that the league had only just begun informally considering options for the start of the season recently, as the coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty in the NHL's planning. The closest thing to an exact start date was given back when the league's plan for a bubble season was first announced in July, which was Dec. 1 at the time.
Regardless of when that start ends up happening, one thing that the NHL is a bit more certain of is the desire to play a full 82-game season. The commissioner added that it was "conceivable" that next season would start without fans and then transition into fans attending games in limited capacity, but noted that it was just speculation on his part.
"How and when we do that is something that we don't all have enough information to make any decisions," Bettman said, per the AP.
Among the unanswered issues was how the league was planning to navigate issues of allowing teams play across the U.S.-Canada border. The league had to hold its entire quarantined bubble season and playoffs in two Canadian cities due to the difference in approach of how each nation handled the pandemic. Though they were able to move 24 teams into Canada for this unprecedented situation, just seven of the league's soon-to-be 32 teams -- with Seattle's arrival -- are located in that country. This concern has reared its ugly head not just in how the NHL has operated, with only families who live in Canada being allowed to visit players in the bubble, but also in other sports, such as with the Toronto Blue Jays being forced to relocate to Buffalo for the year due to cross-border travel restrictions.
The league is in the final stage of its postseason bubble experiment. After 24 teams were sent to Toronto and Edmonton to play out the playoffs, only the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning remain, with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final beginning on Saturday. Bettman boasted that more than 30,000 coronavirus tests have been done in that time with zero positive test results.