As the NHL plans continue to be maneuvered and finessed, piling contingency plans on top of other contingency plans, the big factor that can’t be ignored is “what are the players willing to do? “
In the return to play we just witnessed, the players were “all-in” given the extreme circumstances of the moment. The bubble had its ups and downs for players but mostly they missed their families and lives. I don’t get the sense from anybody that they are willing to go back into a bubble to start the new season.
Also, with the season probably starting somewhere around the middle of January, an 82 game season feels virtually impossible. If that’s the case, then I don’t see the players taking a pay cut easily either. And while it is hard to blame them, the reality might be there is no hockey without some sort of bubble and some sort of proportional pay cut.
I do believe we will see fans in the stands in the spring, but that’s just a guess and as we’ve learned lately a guess is as good as the predictability of the pandemic.
Do the players really need to finish by the Olympics? Perhaps, but I could also see a scenario where they take a break for the Olympics and then bubble up for the playoffs. This could finish them around early October. Start again in December and hopefully get back on track eventually.