Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said he believes the 2020-21 NHL season will begin on Feb. 1, a full month after the NHL's current "target date."
Foley told KSHP's Vegas Hockey Hotline that he expects the season will be less than 60 games, saying it could be "48 or 56 games." But he said the fate of next season relies on when fans can return to NHL arenas.
"Who knows if we're going to be playing? If we aren't playing in front of fans, a lot of teams can't make it. That's including us, to make a serious financial commitment to fund the team without playing in front of fans," said Foley, a member of the NHL Board of Governors. "I don't believe [commissioner] Gary Bettman is going to have us fly all around [the country] and play in empty arenas."
Foley said the NHL's status as a gate-driven league means it needs fans back in buildings.
"The NFL has such a great TV contract that they can survive. We do not have that kind of contract. The NHL is a game-day activity. If you don't have game-day revenue, you don't survive," said Foley, calling the TV revenue the teams received during the 2020 postseason "pretty [minimal], honestly, and not very good."
He said playing next season inside "bubbles," like the ones in Toronto and Edmonton that housed this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, isn't feasible. "I know the commissioner is dedicated to having a season and awarding the Stanley Cup, but we can't play in bubbles. It's impossible. We can't afford it," he said.
Foley said the truncated season is one reason he supported the Knights retaining goaltenders Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas was seeking a trade for Fleury to free up salary-cap space, but general manager Kelly McCrimmon said this week that the two players will be the Knights' goalie tandem going forward.
"If we're going to play 56 games over four months, that's a lot of games. There's not going to be a break. There's going to be a lot of back-to-backs. In theory we're going to play four games a week to get this season done. Maybe even more -- five games a week," said Foley.
He said the NHL will rush to complete the season by the end of June to avoid a conflict with the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The Vegas owner isn't sure how many fans -- if any -- will be able to attend Golden Knights home games at T-Mobile Arena.
"I think everyone is very nervous. I think we all thought we'd be working our way out of COVID by now and have fans in the arena. We have to see what we accomplish with 40 percent or 50 percent of fans. Can we get that many people into the arena and have it be done safely? Can they all be tested with a nasal swab the day of the game? Right now in Vegas, you can have 10% of your capacity," he said.
"I have no clue how it's going to work. We need to get up to 40 or 50 percent attendance, and then we can come up with some kind of program where every other game you can go to, that sort of thing. But with 1,800 people in the arena? That's not enough," said Foley.
As for what next season could look like, Foley added fuel to speculation that there could be realignment of sorts in the NHL. Sources have told ESPN that the league is considering, among many other options, an all-Canadian division of teams if the border remains closed. Foley mentioned the probability of an all-Canadian team division as long as the U.S./Canada border remains closed.
"I don't think that border is going to be open before Jan. 1. I really don't. Canada has spikes going on and they're starting to lock down again. I don't think they're going to be crossing the border," he said.