NHL revamp due to border closures

NHL revamp due to border closures

TORONTO • The National Hockey League likely will feature a new look when it begins the 2020-21 season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that the league intends to temporarily realign its divisions ahead of the new season, complete with the seven Canada-based teams linked in the same group.

The potential realignment is influenced by the Canada-United States border being closed to non-essential travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Border restrictions have forced the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors, Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays and all three Canadian Major League Soccer clubs to temporarily relocate to the US.

“There are a lot of things we have to do to return to play,” Bettman told The Maccabi USA Sports Show. “For us to return to play, we’re not going to play 82 games, obviously…

“You can’t go back and forth, so we’re actually going to have to realign. If everything stays the way it is, we’re probably going to have to have a Canadian division and realign in the US.”

A seven-team, all-Canadian division would comprise provincial rivals Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, as well as the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.

All but the Senators qualified for the post-season in 2019-20. That would leave the 24 US-based teams, who likely will be shuffled into three, eight-club divisions based on geography, while expansion team Seattle Kraken will begin play in the 2021-22 season.

The NHL has yet to announce an official start day for the upcoming season. Multiple media outlets, however, reported that the league and the Players’ Association are finalising a plan to start on Jan 13. Per reports, a 52-or 56-game schedule has been proposed.

All games will initially be played behind closed doors, as was the case when the league restarted in August after a five-month hiatus.

MAJOR CUTBACK

For us to return to play, we’re not going to play 82 games, obviously, and we have travel issues because of the restrictions at the border between Canada and the US.

GARY BETTMAN, NHL commissioner, on the Covid impact.

The lack of revenue from ticket sales and concessions has led to the average value of the 31 franchises declining for the first time since 2001, according to Forbes on Wednesday.

The magazine said the figure fell 2 per cent during the past year to US$653 million (S$873.5 million), while league revenue totalled US$4.4 billion, 14 per cent less than the previous year.

REUTERS