NHL Tentatively Plans For January 13th Start, Temporary Realignment of Divisions

Hello Pacific Division, old friend — we did not miss you.

It appears the hockey world might be on the verge of having some concrete plans for the new season. The NHL and the NHL Player’s Association have reportedly cleared the largest hurdle in getting to an agreement on the financial hurdles facing the league in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After trying to get additional concessions from the players to help with cash flow for teams at the beginning of the season shortly before Thanksgiving, the NHL backed off. Both sides are operating under the memorandum of understanding agreed upon back in the summer before they returned for the playoffs instead of further adjusting pay reductions by the players or changes to the escrow withholdings from that original plan.

The tentative start date for the NHL season is January 13th. It’s been widely reported that teams will play a shortened regular season (52 or 56 games have been floated around the internet, which would be a little longer than the lockout-shortened season back in the 2012-2013 season when the league played 48 games.) The initial timing for the opening of training camps is December 31st for non-playoff teams, and January 3rd for playoff teams (which would be the timing for the Dallas Stars.) It is assumed that preseason games would be scrapped completely in order to get the season underway with this training camp timing.

That’s likely to be good news for Dallas Stars employees that have been furloughed due to the pandemic. One would assume that if games resume, at least some functions will be necessary to support the team and therefore will have employees brought back (assuming they haven’t found new ones in the past months, anyway.) There’s still no word on whether fans will be allowed at games to start the season. The Dallas Cowboys, operating under current Texas allowances of 50 percent of capacity for sporting events, hosted about  30,000 fans at their Thanksgiving home game in their retractable-roof-but-mostly-operating-as-an-indoor facility, AT&T Stadium. If the Stars do not have fans in the stadium from puck drop of game one, it’s possible not every Stars employee furloughed would be brought back when the league starts back up.

Other news that will be of interest for Stars fans is the potential realigned divisions for this pandemic-impacted year.  Here’s what has been floated to the Board of Governors this week:

Let’s all take a moment and congratulate the Tampa Bay Lightning on their President’s Trophy for the shortened season. On paper, there is not a lot of competition in that division, so I’d fully expect the Lightning to run roughshod over the other teams in this proposed alignment, especially if there is heavy divisional play in the schedule.

As for the Dallas Stars, they don’t get away from one of the strongest teams in their division - the Colorado Avalanche are still here. They also get to contend with the Vegas Golden Knights for a full season in-division, which would be tough without the added constraint of not having top center Tyler Seguin and starting goaltender Ben Bishop for a majority of the regular season.

If things go as planned, there should be votes happening on all of the parameters for the new season at the end of this week or early next. Until then, everything is subject to change. As they say, nothing is done til it’s done.