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Regal Rundown: Could the NHL shift to a summer schedule?

It might happen anyway thanks to the delayed 2020 postseason.

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Last week, James Mirtle of The Athletic proposed the idea that the NHL might benefit from shifting its league calendar to the summer permanently. The league is already planning on finishing its 2019-20 season during the summer months and will have to correspondingly delay the start of the 2020-21 season; rather than try to adjust subsequent seasons to get back to the normal timeframe, the NHL could try to become a summer sport.

At first blush, the idea seems very, very odd. Hockey, by definition, is a winter sport. Unlike basketball, which is also indoor and whose leagues worldwide follow the same general calendar (except for the WNBA), hockey is contested at the Winter Olympics. It’s almost incongruous to think of hockey in the summertime. The idea of moving the bulk of the regular season to the summer and trying to get people to actively spend time indoors in the cold doesn’t make much sense.

The rationale for moving the calendar comes down to one primary objective: staggering the NHL with the NFL so it doesn’t have to compete with a football audience. It’s the same conundrum the NBA has faced for years — and yet, even with a golden opportunity to move its schedule back due to the pandemic, the NBA is still trying to start its next season as soon as possible to get back to its normal schedule.

The NHL hasn’t been as aggressive in setting its 2020-21 calendar. As of now, training camp for the 2020 postseason isn’t even projected to start until August, which would cause the playoffs to run through at least the end of October. A best-case scenario would be starting the next season with a Jan. 1 Winter Classic, but even that seems ambitious.

Unless the league is prepared to make a dramatic shift by canceling a season (Sie made a good argument for axing this one) or radically shortening one, 82-game seasons mean summer hockey will be inevitable in the near future, even if the league doesn’t want it.

Could the NHL survive as a summer sport? What do you think the league should do avoid that situation?

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