On Friday, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed that the league is considering multiple schedule models for the 2020-21 season. One would have all teams hosting games in their home arenas and another would require all teams to play in hub cities "that would be determined based on where there are the fewest COVID-19 cases."
"We have to build in flexibility for the hiccups that we expect will come along and have to expect will come along with potential COVID positives and contact tracing requirements," Daly told NHL.com' @TheRink podcast on Friday. "Some of the difficulties that [Major League] baseball went through and some of the difficulties that the NFL is currently dealing with, how do we address those situations in the context of our own schedule? Those are all the things we're working on and those are all the things that keep us all up at night as we try to figure this out."
Daly revealed that the league prefers that NHL teams host games in their home arenas whether there are fans or not. However, it's unknown if that will be an option as a result of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the United States.
"If possible to do so, I think our clubs would much prefer to play in their home buildings even if that means not before fans," Daly added. "Having said that, in some markets, if we dropped the puck tomorrow night, I'm not sure all markets could accommodate a game just by local regulation and health restrictions. That changes on a daily basis; the restrictions that come into effect, the restrictions that go out of effect. That presents its own challenge on just staying on top of what all the conditions are."
If the league is forced to proceed with the idea of having multiple hub cities, Daly stated that the safety protocols wouldn't be as strict as what was done in Edmonton and Toronto this past summer for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, these hub cities wouldn't have a ton of interaction with the outside world when players are within the respective hub cities.
"You'd obviously want to put those hub cities in places that are experiencing positive experiences on the COVID side," Daly said. "You'd set up some dedicated space and restaurants for the players without the secure perimeters that we had in the bubble cities. That would be the benefit of hub cities. You would be in a situation where teams would travel in, play a bunch of games over a two-week time period and then be able to go home and spend time with their families and their own local practices facilities for a week, and cycle through a season that way."
The NHL still plans to begin next season as early as Jan. 1, which would include two weeks worth of mandatory training camps prior to the season getting underway. For teams that weren't involved in the league's Return to Play plan last season, they would receive an extra week of preparation.
"Realistically, if we're going to start in the first part of January, mandatory training camps are going to have to start in the middle part of December. In some of our markets there continue to be quarantine requirements associated with players coming into town, so you factor those in and you back it up from there. I would ultimately concur with the conclusion that time is getting short."
Earlier this week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed that the league may be forced to have some type of realignment as far as teams go. That would be due to help ease travel restrictions between the United States and Canada.