Reports: NHL, NHLPA discuss 56-game regular season with mid-January start date

League, players remain in negotiations as time ticks away

FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, goals used by the NHL hockey club Nashville Predators are stored in a hallway in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Time is running short for the NHL to start its season on Jan. 1. Various pandemic-related geographic and economic issues remain unresolved. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Mark Humphrey, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The NHL and NHLPA are looking at the possibility of starting a 56-game regular season in mid-January 2021, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

There is no expectation for the league to play a full 82-game schedule after such a delay to the start due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the expectation for months had been a Jan. 1 start. That’s a highly unlikely possibility at this point as the league and players have been negotiating next steps.

The AP reported earlier this week NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman warned players they are likely going to have to pay one way or another to make up for the league’s projected lost revenue whenever the 2020-21 season gets underway. This issue apparently has stalled talks over the past couple of weeks.

From AP reporter John Wawrow:

“The NHL’s new CBA currently calls for players to defer 10% of their salary for the upcoming season and it puts a cap on how much money will be kept in escrow over the length of the deal.

Without calling it a formal proposal, the league has raised the possibility of having players increase salary deferrals to 20% or 26% and increasing the escrow caps, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is publicly announcing details of negotiations.”

Time is ticking away. If this new pandemic-shortened season really is going to start in mid-January, the NHL and NHLPA need to finalize something very soon.

The league had to stop play in March when the pandemic swept into North America. They were able to successfully complete a 24-team playoff tournament thanks to the ability to keep playoff teams in “bubbles” at two hub cities: Toronto and Edmonton.

Read more: Bubble hockey champions: Tampa Bay Lightning win Stanley Cup

The new 2020-21 season faces many obstacles, not the least of which will be travel between Canada and the United States. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the ban on nonessential travel with the United States will not be lifted until COVID-19 is significantly more under control around the world.

The league expected this scenario and has been planning to keep Canadian teams in Canada playing against each other in an intra-country division. The rest of the American teams would also shift into new divisions based on geography.

The last time the NHL played a shortened season was in 2012-13 when a labor dispute between the league and players union delayed the season’s start until Jan. 6, 2013. They ended up playing a 48-game season, just as they did in 1994-95 due to another lockout.