On Dec. 16, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the NHL season could start as soon as mid-January. Bettman originally hoped the league would start on Jan. 1, but this was delayed due to financial negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association. These negotiations have come to a close and both parties have agreed to extend the collective-bargaining agreement. Another obstacle to the season may have been avoided with the announcement that the NHL and NHL Players Association have tentatively agreed to a 56-game season.
In addition to a shortened schedule, the 2020-21 season will likely include a temporary realignment of the divisions to limit travel and maintain the safety of both the players and communities. To accommodate restrictions at the Canada-United States border, the NHL hopes to have a division that includes all seven Canadian teams. However, this has not been approved by health authorities in Canada’s provinces. (from ‘NHL’s plan for upcoming season hits potential roadblock,’ Tampa Bay Times, 12/17/2020) It is unclear whether games will be played in home arenas or if the league will implement hubs. If the teams were to play in their home arenas, the NHL would attempt to limit travel even within their own city. In reference to teams playing at home, Bettman said,
“Doing that will not be as risk-averse as being in a bubble or a hub, but for an entire regular season, even if it’s abbreviated, we didn’t think we could put the players in a bubble for six months… That just wasn’t practical.”
Panthers at Practice
With the 2020-21 season taking shape, several members of the Florida Panthers have returned to practice at the Ice Den in Coral Springs, Florida. Unlike the restart of the 2019-20 season, the players have been able to train and stay in shape during the offseason.
The Panthers’ informal workouts are implementing the same safety protocols used during the training camps of the 2019-20 season restart. Thus, players must wear masks and are tested for COVID-19 each day when they arrive. The Panthers have been rotating two groups of approximately eight skaters in and out of the facility. When the first group is finished training for the day, the rink and locker rooms are sanitized before the second group can enter the facility. The two groups do not intermingle while they are at the rink.
Robb Tallas, the Panthers goaltending coach, is currently the only member of Florida’s staff allowed at the rink. Tallas, coaching in his 12th season with the organization, has been working with Florida’s top two goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger. Bobrovsky, who played 50 games last season, is looking to bounce back after he struggled last season. Driedger will be looking to build upon his success of last season as he finished with a 2.12 goals against average and .933 save percentage in 12 games.
A skill coach not affiliated with the Panthers has been working with the skaters of the team. Several veterans have been attending the workouts, such as Aaron Ekblad and Anton Stralman. Returning youngsters Chase Priskie and Grigori Denisenko have attended, too. There are several new faces taking part in training, including Patric Hornqvist, Ryan Lomberg, Vinny Hinostroza, and 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Carter Verhaeghe.
Although obstacles to the 2020-21 season remain, recent agreements between the NHL and the NHL Players Association give hope that the players will take the ice sooner rather than later. Because the new season is presumably just a few weeks away, the remaining players should return to the Panthers’ training facility in the near future, as they will have to quarantine before training camp. Since the players have been able to train and did not have an extensive three-month quarantine like this summer, they should be ready to go for the start of the season.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville