NHL still eying early-January start despite no progress in talks

NHL Stanley Cup center ice
The NHL has a lot of work to do before a potential January start to the 2021 season.
Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

If the NHL wants to start a new season around New Year’s Day, they’re going to have to hustle. 

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Tuesday that an early-January puck-drop to start the 2021 season is still the goal for the league despite a litany of obstacles laying in the way. 

Commissioner Gary Bettman only has roughly one month to properly layout a schedule and get players and staff together for what will likely be an abbreviated training camp, which is already a lot to contend with.

But there is so much more that goes into this. 

Amid another spike of COVID-19 across the United States and Canada, players will have to quarantine for up to two weeks to safely assimilate their way back into their respective clubs — ensuring the health and safety of all involved. 

There also comes the uncertainty of negotiations between the league and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA), which has been on rocky ground for weeks. 

Zero progress has been made between the two negotiating sides, including some radio silence just a few weeks ago. The deterioration of those negotiations and the relationship between the league and players is a drastic one considering things seemed peaceful just a few months ago. 

Both sides were able to piece together a summer postseason after the 2019-20 season was halted for more than four months beginning in March. With it came a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that featured a 20% escrow cap and 10% salary deferment for players in 2020-21 to keep the league afloat after taking a financial hit during the height of the virus. 

Now, the NHL is attempting to change the parameters of that deal, proposing either a 25% escrow cap and a player salary deferment of 20% or a 26% player salary deferment and a 20% escrow cap. 

Such backpedaling has helped negotiations screech to a halt, which only makes the likelihood of a January start that much slimmer.