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The NBA’s projected start and how it affects the Leafs and the NHL

During any offseason, we are usually counting down the days until our favourite sport(s) return for another year of exciting action. This year has changed that and instead of eagerly awaiting the start of a new campaign, we are instead wondering what the start date will be.

While a certain election was continuing to dominate the headlines, the NBA voted to approve a projected start date of December 22 and compile a 72-game schedule.

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They are now the latest league to try and determine the beginning of the 2020-21 season after the OHL and AHL did the same just last week. While all of this is contingent on the state of affairs with COVID-19 cases remaining on the rise, it gives fans a clear picture of the duration of the current offseason.

But how does this affect the Leafs NHL?

It has been well documented that the NHL has been trying to get the new campaign to start around January 1st, although there are rumours that a February 1st projected beginning is also a distinct possibility (chief among them being Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley). Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski of ESPN have also reported that the NHL would not go lower than 48 games for the coming season, similar to the format used during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. What this report of the NBA’s projected start likely does is force the NHL’s hand to fast-track the process towards making an announcement to avoid falling behind.

It’s not the first time this year that the NHL has followed the NBA’s lead on what their next steps should be. Nearly 24 hours after the NBA shut down their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL did the same. Similar story with the NBA’s decision to suspend games in the wake of a new wave of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality although the fact it took the NHL so long to do so resulted in a lot of criticism from hockey fans. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s only a matter of time until the NHL votes to approve their start date to not fall behind in viewership to the NBA and NFL playoffs.

On the Leafs side of things, this announcement reaffirms that the players that are currently getting their reps overseas will soon be getting word on when they need to come back to North America for the start of training camp. Some of the Leafs playing in Europe include Joe Thornton, Denis Malgin, Mikko Lehtonen, and Yegor Korshkov. Assuming the NHL tries to begin the season on New Years Day, the aforementioned players and a few others could be heading on flights to Toronto by early December for quarantine reasons.

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By no means is a fast-tracked return a guarantee, but the aftermath of the NBA approving their Dec. 22 return could force the NHL’s hand and work to finalize when the puck will drop for the 2020-21 season. Meaning we will soon get an idea of how many more nights we’ll have to sleep before Thornton makes his Leafs debut!

Related:

The OHL season and how it affects the Leafs