Starting at the World Juniors, the tournament hasn’t even started yet and Canada has already lost their best player. Chicago Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach hurt his arm in Canada’s exhibition game against Russia Wednesday night.
Canada's captain, Kirby Dach, left the ice and went straight to the dressing room after this play. pic.twitter.com/ZEzfG66aad— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 24, 2020
Bad news came this morning as Dach has been ruled out for the tournament and is expected to miss NHL time.
Now for the fun stuff, with just weeks to go until the current start date for the 2020*-21 NHL season, the league has started to get fans ramped up with more and more news about what’s to come.
The league confirmed that the entirety of the regular season will consist of intra-divisional play, meaning that Colorado will only face seven opponents — the Anaheim Ducks, the Arizona Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota Wild, the San Jose Sharks, the St. Louis Blues and the Vegas Golden Knights — until the playoffs roll around.
They also confirmed that teams will play in series, like baseball, to cut down on travel and minimize covid spread. And now, they’ve released the schedules themselves — and the Avalanche are kicking off their season against a divisional rival they’ll be fiercely battling for a top playoff spot this year.
For the first time in 25 years, the Avalanche will open their season against the St. Louis Blues; despite being divisional rivals even during non-covid seasons, the two teams have only kicked off their years face-to-face once in Colorado’s 26 years in Denver. The two teams will face off twice in their first week, then Jared Bednar and his crew will hit the road for sunny California and the season will officially be in full swing.
It’s going to be a strange year for a lot of teams, the Avalanche among them. They’ve been shifted from the Central division to the West, which is predominantly made up of Pacific Division teams with Colorado, Minnesota, and St. Louis replacing the three Canadian clubs (who will play north of the border for the year). The division will be the only one outside of the Canadian Division to span more than two time zones, and the Avalanche — whose closest rivals are Las Vegas, who are a whopping 750 miles away — are the team with the farthest to travel no matter what they do. The three California clubs, Arizona, and Las Vegas are all within around 600 miles of one another (Phoenix to San Jose is the farthest travel distance among those five clubs, sitting 615 miles apart) and Minnesota sits just 500 miles to the north of St. Louis, in the same time zone. So while the CST and PST teams will have the longest treks to reach one another, Colorado will have no shorter trips on their schedule — and will have to change time zones to face every single opponent but Arizona, who will switch out of their time zone and into Pacific time on March 14th.
Of course, their plight has nothing on what some other clubs are facing — including their own divisional rivals in San Jose.
The San Francisco - Bay Area region of Northern California has been hit particularly hard by covid-19, both due to high population density and due to the large numbers of essential farming workers who have been unable to properly isolate when sick during the ongoing global pandemic.
As a result of both their case counts and a more progressive governing body, California’s northern regions have been particularly strict about reintroducing gatherings of any kind — including professional sports.
The San Francisco 49ers have been practicing and playing out of Glendale, Arizona since just after American Thanksgiving, when their home city put a ban on pro sporting events and practices. Now, they have some new friends joining them in the Phoenix West Valley, as the Sharks will hold their own training camp in AZ and potentially base their own season out of Gila River Arena to boot:
The Sharks will hold training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, beginning Dec. 31, forced to leave San Jose because current health restrictions related to COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, California, include a ban on contact sports.https://t.co/voGAaT9VDy— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) December 21, 2020
Given the circumstances, it made the most sense for San Jose to start off their season facing their new housemates; they’ll kick off the season in a two-game series against the Coyotes in Glendale, then head out for St. Louis to go on a massive road trip that won’t give them a ‘home’ game until February 1st.
The league seems to be planning for a potential shared home situation for the Sharks and the Desert Dogs, since Arizona will get a slew of home games following a brief two-game series in Vegas and then will take off for St. Louis during San Jose’s two-game home series at the start of February. The two teams both have home games on February 13th and 15th, but the league likely hopes that won’t be an issue; by that point, they almost certainly want to see the Sharks back home at the SAP Center.
Speaking of teams that don’t have home arenas, there’s more news on that front north of the border — where the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators could all find themselves struggling to get permission to play in their own home arenas to kick off the season, as well:
The #Vancouver Canucks will start the 2020-21 NHL season in an all-Canadian division next month when play resumes, but it’s still not clear if the puck will drop at Rogers Arena https://t.co/NCOdPCylTV pic.twitter.com/hkfiBDMfTf— NEWS 1130 (@NEWS1130) December 21, 2020
The league has already had to create an All-Canadian division to cut down on border-crossing travel during the pandemic, but certain provinces are being stricter about safety procedures and haven’t given the green light on allowing teams to play games (even without fans) in their own rinks.
One possible option, of course, is to do with Vancouver and the Ontario teams what the Sharks are doing right now — move them to a city with fewer restrictions, and share a barn until they’re able to go back home.
The other provinces haven’t seemed particularly keen to green-light then NHL season either, though:
Sources say the 5 provinces have requested additional testing procedures, or have asked the NHL to consider a “bubble” model. If bubble isn’t an option for NHL, sources say a delay to start of season has also been suggested. The NHL is working on a response. Ongoing discussions.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 24, 2020
News came out on Wednesday evening that the NHL was getting requests from the Canadian provinces to return to a bubble format (similar to the playoffs) to start off the season. If they can’t agree to that, the provinces — who released a letter obtained by TSN’s Frank Seravalli on Wednesday — have requested that the league either modify their schedule to limit inter-province travel, enhance testing protocols to test player families regularly as well as players, or delay the start of the season altogether. [You can read the full request here].
It’s clear that we’re far from in the clear for the start of the season. But for now, at least there’s news — and as we all prepare to spend the next week celebrating the end of 2020 as safely as we can, here’s the best video the internet has ever given us:
Shaq goes for a bike ride. pic.twitter.com/VaW2BkhGVz— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) December 23, 2020
Happy holidays, all! May our Christmas readers sleep tight and get everything they asked for from Santa, and may everyone enjoy the start of the 2021 World Juniors on Christmas Day.