Several NHL teams are exploring the possibility of playing some 2020-21 home games in outdoor venues and in front of fans if local COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings would allow for them, sources confirmed to ESPN on Thursday.
The Boston Bruins confirmed they're exploring home games at Fenway Park, which has hosted NHL and NCAA games in the past.
"We are in consistent contact with the NHL as well as officials from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston, and are exploring all possible venue options for the upcoming season ----- including Fenway Park. At this point we are in the exploratory phase," the team said in a statement.
The Los Angeles Kings have had internal discussions about playing home games at Dignity Health Sports Park, home to the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer. Anschutz Entertainment Group owns both teams and the soccer stadium. Those discussions were shared with the NHL a few months ago.
California has been one of the most restrictive states in its response to COVID-19. The NFL's San Francisco 49ers recently moved their football operations to Arizona due to increased restrictions from Santa Clara County, for example.
Based on those trends, the Kings expressed concern that they might be one of the last teams allowed to have fans back at home games inside Staples Center. Hence, they're considering plans to play home games at an outdoor venue like the Galaxy's stadium, specifically if other NHL teams are able to play in front of small capacities of fans in their arenas.
Building and maintaining an outdoor NHL rink for home games -- in Southern California during the spring, no less -- would be a costly venture. To help mitigate that, an NHL source said the Kings have reached out to the Anaheim Ducks on a potential partnership in which both teams could play outdoor home games at Dignity Health Sports Park.
As first reported by Sportsnet, the Bruins, Kings, Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins are among the teams that have told the NHL they are investigating outdoor home games. The Athletic noted that the Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators are among the teams that have also indicated interest to the NHL in playing multiple outdoor games.
Although the Winter Classic in Minnesota was postponed, the Hurricanes still are scheduled to play a Stadium Series game at NC State's football stadium in the 2020-21 season. NHL sources have stressed that these are "no stone unturned" ideas for creating revenue and playing in front of fans, rather than any concreted plans for the 2020-21 season. They also said that along with cost, the league's biggest concern with teams playing multiple outdoor games is watering down the novelty of the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series events that continue to pack crowds into football and baseball stadiums for hockey games every season.
The 2020-21 NHL season remains in flux.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday that the projected Jan. 1 start date is still "a work in progress" that will be "influenced largely by medical experts." Sources told ESPN on Thursday that speculation around a February start date is picking up.