The NHL’s 2020-21 promises to be an interesting prospect, with several changes from what has gone before. Some will be permanent, while others are likely to be one-offs following disruptions to the 2019-20 season.
The 2019-20 NHL season finished later than almost any other in history, with the Stanley Cup being awarded at the end of September. It was won by the Tampa Bay Lightning, their second championship win since the team’s founding in 1992.
The late running of the playoffs has had a knock-on effect on other key NHL events. The 2020 NHL Draft didn’t take place until October, four months later than initially scheduled.
With this out of the way, the teams are all preparing for the beginning of the regular season. However, this has also been pushed back, with speculation currently circulating that the first games will be played in either January or February. Gary Bettman recently said that the NHL still has Jan. 1 as a target date, but that a shortened regular-season schedule could be a reality, and that a four-city, bubble concept is likely for at least the first part of the season.
This is not the first time the NHL has had to do this. The 1994-95 season was shortened to 48 regular-season games, as was the 2012-13 season due to lockouts. Whatever happens, it won’t be as extreme as the 2004-05 season which was canceled altogether due to industrial action.
Changes to federal law in 2018 made it possible for states to make their own rules around sports betting. In Colorado, legal sportsbooks began operating back in May, meaning that 2020-21 will be the first full NHL season that Colorado Avalanche fans can bet on their own team from within the state.
Competition among sportsbooks is strong in Colorado too, which has resulted in most companies offering generous free bets to fans to build up a market share. Savvy hockey fans can use this to get thousands of dollars worth of free wagers to use throughout the next season. Elsewhere in the country, there are more than a dozen states now allowing their residents to wager on sports, including Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.
Going into the start of the season, the Avas are favorites to win the Stanley Cup, just ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights and last season’s winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The NHL has been experimenting with technology that can track the position and movement of each player and the puck while on the ice. This had been planned to be introduced throughout the league by now, but delays occurred after the NHL switched its technology partner.
The technology will be ready in all 31 arenas ahead of the 2020-21 season, and should allow fans to get a better understanding of what’s happening during the game. Using cameras and antenna installed in the roof of each arena, the system will be able to display information like puck speed, skating distances, time on ice, and the number of shots on screen.
This may be a cause for concern to some older hockey fans who remember the controversial FoxTrax technology from the 1990s. That system also used roof-mounted sensors to detect the position of the puck and then displayed a glowing aura around it on screen. It was designed to let people follow the puck more easily back when TVs were smaller and picture quality wasn’t as good. However, after criticism from fans, it was retired after just two seasons.
The 2020-21 tracking technologies will be more subtle than this. In fact, you will likely already have seen it. The technology was first tested in the 2019 All-Star Game and has been included in some other games too, including the 2020 playoffs.
The NHL will make the information available to broadcasters who will be free to display the data as frequently or as seldom as they like. This will be different to some other sports, such as Formula 1 where a single “world feed” is provided to all broadcasters, which includes a full package of on-screen graphics, including some more controversial and less-appreciated data like the notoriously unreliable “tire condition” data.
For NHL fans, this will be a double-edged sword. It will mean some viewers will get access to more data while others won’t, at least while broadcasters find their feet with it. However, it will also promote innovation among broadcasters, who can be creative with what data to display and to do it.
There were a number of international games against some of Europe’s biggest teams that had been scheduled earlier in 2020 that had to be postponed. That included a game between the German side Adler Mannheim and the Boston Bruins, a game in Bern, and a meeting in Switzerland between the Nashville Predators and SC Bern. It is believed that the NHL is trying to reschedule these games for some time in 2021, though nothing is currently confirmed.
Three NHL regular-season games had also been planned overseas, including two between the Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets that were due to take place in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. Finland is a big market for the NHL, as the country’s population is hockey-mad. It also has the fifth-highest number of players in the NHL, with 49, behind Russia’s 50 and Sweden’s 113. The third regular-season game had been scheduled to take place in Czechia, Prague, between the Boston Bruins and the Nashville Predators.