Nov 4, 2020 - Sports

The impact of the third wave: NHL 2021

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

All North American sports leagues face enormous uncertainty heading into 2021, but the NHL's reliance on ticket sales and cross-border travel puts it in a particularly tough spot.

The state of play: While leagues like the NBA and NFL make most of their revenue from media rights, the NHL is a much more gate-driven league.

  • This means playing in empty arenas could cripple the bottom line — so much so that a few owners have suggested that the league might be better off financially if it shuts down next season, according to ESPN.
  • Commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly shut that idea down, but it gives a sense of the stress the NHL is under.

Where things stand:

  • Start date: The NHL and NHLPA announced on Oct. 6 that they've shifted their target date to Jan. 1, 2021, after initially targeting Dec. 1. Bettman made it clear to me in our interview last month that they won't rush this decision.
  • Canadian border: The Canadian border was closed for nonessential travel this summer, and the situation hasn't changed all that much. One potential solution: an All-Canada Division featuring the NHL's seven Canada-based teams.
  • Season length: We almost certainly won't see a full slate. That could mean upward of 65 games or as few as 48, which is considered the absolute minimum, per ESPN.
  • Paychecks: Thanks to an agreement the NHL and NHLPA made this summer, most players have already received 8.1% of their 2020-21 salaries.

Series schedule:

  • Yesterday: NBA 2021
  • Tomorrow: MLB 2021
  • Friday: Mystery league (???)
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