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Latest on 2020-21 season start and implications on the Winter Classic

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Will a delayed start to the 2020-21 season mean anything for the Wild hosting the Winter Classic?

2016 Coors Light Stadium Series - Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that the NHL is discussing the possibility that the 2020-21 NHL season would not begin until December. This is in hopes of finishing the 2019-20 regular season, having a postseason and starting next season with fans in attendance. Despite the late start, the NHL still hopes to play an entire 82-game season, with the regular season extending into May and the playoffs going into July.

When the 2020-21 NHL season starts seems to depend on what the league’s priorities are. These are some of the issues that could be/are on the league’s mind:

  • Finishing the 2019-20 regular season
  • Playing the 2020 postseason
  • Starting the 2020-21 season on time (this is the one thing that seems to not be a priority to the league)
  • Starting the 2020-21 season with fans in attendance
  • Playing an 82-game regular season

Right now, it seems that the league is greatly concerned with achieving as many of those things as possible, with the exception of starting next season on time. From a financial standpoint, it is critical to the league to play a full season next year and to sell tickets to all of those games. The league also wants to get the television revenue from the playoffs for this season. At some point, though, it would seem that some of these things would either have to come off the table or the league begins to jeopardize the start to the 2021-22 season. Every day that the league goes by without resuming play is one day later that the 2020 postseason would end, and presumably one day later next season could start.

Also per LeBrun, the league is hoping to be able to relax the quarantine period it is currently in by the middle of May. If that is the case, players would be able to resume skating at NHL facilities. We would then be one step (out of several, I assume) closer to resuming the season.

One thought that may be on the minds of some Wild fans is what a delayed start to the season could do to the upcoming Winter Classic. After years of hoping the NHL would finally award the State of Hockey with the big New Year’s Day outdoor game, would it really be the Wild’s luck that the game might get canceled? It would not be the first time a Winter Classic has been cancelled, and Minnesota fans could look to history for some guidance.

The last time the NHL dealt with a shortened season was the 2012-13 season, when the lockout from labor negotiations resulted in a 48-game regular season. The season finally started on January 19, nearly three weeks after the Maple Leafs and Red Wings had been scheduled to meet outdoors at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

There are two things to take away from the cancellation of the 2013 Winter Classic. First, the league got underway just 18 days after the Winter Classic was scheduled to take place, but the game was still canceled altogether. This suggests that if the start of the 2020 season is pushed back past New Year’s Day, the Winter Classic will likely be nixed. And if the league is determined to finish the current season, it seems very possible that the start of next season could be delayed. The second takeaway is that, regardless, it seems likely that the Wild will host the next Winter Classic. As part of the announcement that the 2013 Winter Classic was canceled, the NHL announced that the Red Wings would still host the Maple Leafs in the next Winter Classic the following year. So the worst possible scenario seems to be that, if the 2021 Winter Classic is canceled, the Wild will likely host the Blues at Target Field on New Year’s Day 2022.

One much more interesting scenario than the Winter Classic being postponed a year is a scenario where the start of the 2020-21 season is pushed back past December to January 1, and the Winter Classic is actually the first game of the season. That is pure speculation on my part and I personally hope the season starts long before New Year’s Day, but if the league is looking at a December-January start, it could be a possibility.

Eventually we will have hockey again and eventually the Wild will host the Blues outdoors. Until then, stay healthy and keep washing your hands, Wilderness.