Right now, the focus for Gary Bettman and Co. is to put a bow on a revamped Stanley Cup Playoffs that has been nothing short of a success — especially when examining the outlook of this NHL campaign back in March/April.
Despite the logistical nightmare that came with starting a drastically new playoff slate from scratch in the midst of a pandemic, the 2020 Stanley Cup Final will put an end to a nine-week showcase of playoff action that featured 24 teams entering bubble environments up in Toronto and Edmonton — with no positive COVID-19 tests to report (so far).
"A key element of the protocols was the daily testing regimen of all who were admitted to our bubbles," Bettman said in his annual Cup Final press conference this weekend. "To date, we have conducted more than 31,000 covid tests on our teams without one positive result. This is another testament to the professionalism and commitment of our players and staffs."
But in just a few weeks, this bizarre 2019-20 season will finally be in the rearview mirror — signaling the beginning of a 2020-21 campaign clouded with perhaps even more doubt that this current league year that the NHL somehow managed to conclude.
Just six days after the latest possible date for the Stanley Cup Final (Sept. 30), the league calendar will officially flip to the next campaign — with the first round of the NHL Draft scheduled for Oct. 6. Just a few days later, free agency will commence at noon on Oct. 9, although buyouts can begin as early as Sept. 25.
But beyond a few critical dates at the outset of this uncertain offseason, there's still plenty up in the air in regards to just what we all should expect from the NHL for this upcoming 2020-21 season. As expected, the schedule has been turned on its head due to the months-long COVID pause in the spring, with the tentative date for a return to games set for December 1st — preceded by the start of training camps midway through November.
But during his presser on Saturday afternoon, Bettman conceded that said start date could very well be pushed back — as the NHL begins to lay the groundwork for another challenging campaign beset by closed borders, financial hardship, attendance restrictions and above all else, the still ever-present threat of the pandemic.
Here are a few takeaways from Bettman's presser in regards to what lies ahead for the NHL in 2020-21: