Johnston: Don't think Jan. 1 start date for 2020-21 NHL season is possible

Sportsnet hockey reporter Chris Johnston joined Howard and Jeremy on Tuesday with the latest on the NHL's discussions for the start of the upcoming season
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The National Hockey League and its Players' Association are still in the process of figuring out how they are going to safely start the 2020-21 season.

Back at the 2020 NHL Draft, the league officially stated that it is targeting Jan. 1, 2021 as the official start date for the upcoming season. However, talks between the NHL and NHLPA have hit a snag with the NHL wanting to adjust its salary deferral/escrow rates and other financial issues that are complicating things.

In addition, both sides have been discussing how the upcoming season could potentially be impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes division realignment among other topics.

With both sides continuing to prolong discussions and have no concrete timelines for the upcoming season, the Jan. 1 start date for the NHL seems to be more-and-more unlikely at this time.

It has been nearly nine full months since the Buffalo Sabres last played a game back on March 9. That was before the NHL shut down its 2019-20 regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and later excluded the Sabres from playing in the league's Return To Play plan this past summer.

Sportsnet hockey reporter Chris Johnston joined Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Tuesday to provide some of the latest updates regarding talks and when we could see Buffalo Sabres hockey again heading into 2021.

Here is some of what he had to say:

Johnston on the ongoing discussions between the NHL and the NHLPA:
"In my experience in being around the league when things get a little quiet, it's usually an indication that there's work being done. It's certainly my understanding that the NHL and the NHL Players' Association have resumed their talks after basically going all of last week without having much discussion about what it might take to get next season back on the ice. I do think one aspect of this question that we're all sort of asking ourselves that's being overlooked a little bit is how the league manages the COVID aspect of it. It's not just the financial agreements that hangs in the balance here, as we're seeing with the NFL and some other sports."

Johnston on the possibility of getting the season started by it's Jan. 1, 2020 target date:
"I can't speak to every jurisdiction around the NHL, but in Quebec, for example, the Montreal Canadiens aren't even able to open their practice facility. So if a deal was reached financially where training camp was opening in two weeks, I don't think the Canadiens could actually have training camp in their own city. I saw Santa Clara County in California has booted the [San Francisco] 49ers out. I think that would impact the San Jose Sharks if they were looking to do something in their arena in the near future. I think that Jan. 1 date, while I believe the league was sincere in wanting to get it going that soon, I don't think that's going to be possible. ... As a result, this might drag on a little longer than anyone else would like."

Johnston on the latest the 2020-21 NHL season could possibly start:
"This [situation] is different than the lockouts, but the lockouts that claimed half of the 1994-95 season and half of the 2012-13 season, they started both of those seasons around Jan. 20. Those were 48-game regular seasons, they got the Stanley Cup handed out before the end of June, but the one difference here is [the league] is willing to go into mid-July. ... I think [the NHL] could start as late as early February, but not much later than that."

Johnston on how long training camps would last before the season starts up:
"The working thought has been probably two weeks would be as much as you can shrink it, but I've actually had some conversations in recent days where there seems to be a thought where maybe you can go even less. Especially if there aren't exhibition games, and I think if you were to see any it would be maybe one or two [games] at the most. ... I do think you can maybe condense it down to 10 days or something because the players, now-a-days, do keep themselves in such good shape. ... The need to get into shape at training camp has changed over the games, and if we're not cramming in a bunch of exhibition games, it can maybe be taken down to 10-12 days, but not much more than that."

Johnston on the possibility of there being no 2020-21 NHL season:
"I think it's possible, but unlikely. I don't get the sense that that's something Gary Bettman wants to see happen. And while there are some individual concerns at the ownership level, the viability of the season, I don't think it's the majority. There's a lot of reasons still to have the year."

Johnston on the NHL's benefit of watching how things play out for the NFL and NBA:
"I know for sure, when talking to some league people, they've kept a very close eye on the NFL. Just what they can learn from the experience. Obviously there's some big differences in how those league do function. There's more games in the NHL, more frequency to the games. [There's more] open-air stadiums in most of the places in the NFL."

Johnston on the possibility of the NHL playing in bubble environments in the 2020-21 season:
"As of about a couple of weeks ago, they've sort of ruled out the full bubble, similar to what they did in the summer time to get through the playoffs. They've talked about the possibility of regional bubbles, which are a little less strict with teams coming in and out and able to go home in the middle. ... And then also just the normal with each team playing out of their own arena. At that point in time, the preference from both the owners and players side was use the arena. I think it's more convenient, it obviously impacts the players' families a little differently, I think it's cheaper because of some of the things involved with having all the teams in a bubble. But that may have changed or it still could change because we're seeing an uptick of the spread in basically every place where the NHL has a team operating right now. That's a bit of a TBD, but I don't think we'll see a full bubble like we did in Toronto and Edmonton because there's a huge human cost to it."

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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