January 1 always seemed like a difficult target for the NHL to hit, but now that the calendar has turned to December without any sort of resolution it is completely unrealistic. According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, who this morning has summarized many reports that surfaced, the league asked about a mid-January start on a call with the NHLPA last night. They also discussed a potential 56-game schedule and a training camp that would start on January 2.
None of this, LeBrun explains, has been finalized yet as COVID-19 health restrictions and financial ramifications are too broad to sort through on one phone call. But it at least should give hockey fans some hope that a season is around the corner.
A 56-game season would be very interesting, given what happened last time the league went with a shortened schedule. Remember in 2012-13, when a lockout stole half the season, only 48 games were played. The Chicago Blackhawks would go on to basically run the table with their star-laden lineup that included a young duo named Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but also had a 34-year-old Marian Hossa still playing at a ridiculously high level. The Blackhawks would finish first in the regular season with 77 points, losing just seven games in regulation.
But there were other oddities that year, like only a single team (Washington) coming out of the Southeast Division or the last-place team in the Pacific having a .500 record. Alex Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard with 32 goals in the shortened season, something even several years later he may be able to accomplish again in 2021.
Should this schedule be approved, players would need to quickly find their way in from overseas in order to quarantine in time for training camp. One obvious issue that may arise is the holiday season and whether international players—or even those moving between the U.S. and Canada—would be willing to spend Christmas in quarantine, preparing for the training camp on January 2. That, and the ongoing COVID-19 situation all over the world, could still end up pushing this back even further.