Even if the NHL and NHLPA end their fiscal stalemate and get the 2020-21 season off the ground, there's no guarantee that the Bruins will be playing in front of their fans in this shortened, COVID-impacted campaign.
With cases spiking across the country (and especially now in the Commonwealth), it seems unlikely that the Bruins would get the approval from state and local officials to host even a fraction of TD Garden's total capacity during home games this winter. Perhaps an improving COVID climate in the spring/early summer with the distribution of vaccines and warming weather can eventually lead to a choice number of fans returning to Causeway Street on the eve of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but at this point, the chances of Massachusetts giving the B's the green light to bring even a few thousand fans into an indoor venue seems like a non-starter.
But what if the Bruins opted to take their games outdoors for the first few weeks of the 2021 NHL season?
According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the Bruins are among a number of NHL teams that have explored the possibility of playing games in outdoor venues this season in order to potentially pave the way for fans to be in attendance. Per Friedman, the Penguins, Kings and Ducks have joined the Bruins in exploring such a route to at least recoup some of the revenue that would be lost by hosting games in an empty TD Garden and other NHL barns.
When it comes to potential venues, it should come as no surprise that Fenway Park comes to the forefront, although there are plenty of other potential spots, such as Gillette Stadium, Harvard Stadium and more.
In a team statement, the Bruins confirmed that they are exploring the possibility of outdoor games, but stressed that such planning remains in the early stages:
“We are in consistent contact with the NHL as well as officials from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston, and are exploring all possible venue options for the upcoming season - including Fenway Park," the statement read. "At this point we are in the exploratory phase.”
Friedman noted: "I had heard specific mention of Fenway Park, and was told that is in an 'exploratory phase,' but it was stressed all venue options are being considered."
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic confirmed that a number of NHL teams are keeping their options open when it comes to adding outdoor games to their early-season slate of contests in 2021, with the topic raised on a Board of Governors call back in November. According to LeBrun, the NHL also sent out a query to all 31 teams seeking input about both hosting outdoor games or playing under such conditions.
LeBrun, who reported that the Bruins said yes to such a query, added that the Hurricanes, Stars and Predators have also expressed interest in playing outdoor games — joining previously reported teams such as the Kings and Penguins.
Given how desperate owners and their teams are of at least regaining some of the gate revenue that's slated to dry up this season, it makes plenty of sense for some of these markets to explore the possibility of incorporating outdoor games to their schedule, especially in areas of the country in which restrictions have been eased in outdoor venues (the Titans and Cowboys are still allowing a portion of fans into their stadiums for home games).
But for the Bruins, actually getting the green light to move games over to Fenway or another outdoor venue seems like a long shot.
Given how stringent the current COVID protocols are in Massachusetts, it would seem unlikely that the Bruins would suddenly be allowed to even let a few thousand fans into Fenway, especially considering that the Patriots will not allow any fans into Gillette Stadium this season — even when cases were much lower in the late summer / early fall. Perhaps cases start to drop come late January - February once vaccines and other proactive measures start to be taken, but it still seems unlikely that state and local officials are suddenly going to budge and ease restrictions before at least the spring.
And from a league-wide perspective, it still remains to be seen if paving the way for a number of outdoor games is even feasible. Yes, a number of owners would love to bring in some extra cash off of fan attendance, but it's going to cost the league millions in order to create these outdoor rinks, especially ones in warmer climates such as Texas, North Carolina, California, Tennessee, etc. And even if teams currently in markets with heavy attendance restrictions somehow get approval to play these outdoor games, it remains to be seen if other teams (especially those who vote no on the league's query) will want to even take part in these outdoor games, given how much variance there can be in those types of games with weather conditions and more.
Sure, even if ice conditions are rarely ideal during Winter Classic matchups, such complications are more or less chalked up to the novelty of the annual anticipated event. But if you're a team set to go play multiple games in these unpredictable settings, that novelty tends to wear off quick.
So yes, even if the possibility of the Bruins taking to the ice at Fenway, Gillette, Harvard Stadium or any other outdoor venue certainly sounds intriguing, I wouldn't bet on it it actually coming to fruition — at least not with these current restrictions still in place.