When might we see the Detroit Red Wings play again? Why that Jan. 1 start date is in doubt

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Pistons have an exhibition game scheduled for next week at Little Caesars Arena, as the NBA is forging ahead amid surging COVID-19 numbers.

Which beckons the question: When are we going to see the Detroit Red Wings in action again?

When the NHL staged a delayed, virtual draft in early October, commissioner Gary Bettman announced Jan. 1 was the target date for the 2020-21 season. Now, that’s less than a month away and there are no games scheduled. Starting in early January means training camps would have to begin in mid-December. That’s looking less likely with each day that passes.

The NHL and NHL Players Association are fighting over money. The PA’s position is that a four-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement was ratified in July, and the terms are set forth in a Memorandum of Understanding. That seemed to signal there’d be labor peace at least through 2025-26.

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But that was five months ago, and now the league is looking at a compressed schedule. The 2021 playoffs need to be finished before July 23, when the Summer Olympics are scheduled to commence. NBC holds the broadcasting rights to both events.

When the NHL season does start up, it’s expected to feature geographical realignments instead of the usual format. Travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada would mean all seven Canadian teams would be in one division. Detroit is expected to be in a division that would include Chicago, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.

While pro hockey leagues in North America have not been able to start because of the pandemic, leagues in Europe have — but not without problems. The Finnish Liiga has postponed all games until Dec. 19 because of COVID-19. (The Wings had loaned defenseman Jared McIsaac to HPK, but he lasted one shift before injuring a shoulder and returned to Detroit, where he underwent surgery in early November.)

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The Swedish Hockey League has had to postpone games, too. Wings defense prospect Moritz Seider, who has been loaned to Rögle, played Tuesday for the first time in two weeks after an outbreak forced the team to pause its season. Other Wings playing in Europe include Joe Veleno (Malmo, SHL); Filip Zadina (HC Ocelari Trinec) and Filip Hronek (Mountfield HK), both the Czech Extraliga; and Gustav Lindstrom and Filip Larsson, both Almtuna in HockeyAllsvenskan (the second-highest league in Sweden. Michael Rasmussen (Graz) and Calvin Pickard (Vienna) are both in Austria.

Locally, players who live in the area at least have returned to Little Caesars Arena for the first time since mid-March. With the expectation that camp will start this month, ice was put in last weekend at the practice facility. There can’t be any official practices until training camp, but players usually run these types of informal skates in early September, in advanced of the normal start of camp.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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