While it’s great news that the NHL is back come mid-January, don’t expect there to be any ticket-paying fans at TD Garden to start things off for the Boston Bruins this season.
Bruins President Cam Neely told Boston Hockey Now on Monday that “having fans attend games will be dependent upon State and City guidelines” and those guidelines currently mean empty arenas for both the Boston Celtics and the Bruins. City of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had an interview with the Greg Hill Show last week where he voiced hopes that some percentage of Bruins fans will be back in the building in February or March once the COVID-19 vaccine begins to be more widely distributed to the American public.
“[The Bruins] are trying to shoot for like February or March,” said Walsh, who confirmed that the city of Boston has had some discussions with the Bruins about playing an undetermined amount of outdoor games at Fenway Park as well. “I actually went over there the other day to take a tour of the Garden. They put some really great protocols in place for when we get fans back in the Garden. It’s really amazing what they’ve done. I walked around. I was really impressed with it. So I’m hoping we get fans back to sports soon.”
The TD Garden has introduced state of the art equipment with ions, air filters and Bluetooth monitors that will make it as safe as possible for Bruins and Celtics fans once they are opened for business at some capacity. The New England Patriots, of course, will go through their entire NFL schedule this season without any fans at Gillette Stadium based on the same state and city guidelines.
Some NHL teams, like the Dallas Stars, have announced that some percentage of fans will be allowed in the building to start the NHL season in January. Others like the Florida Panthers are expected to have limited fan attendance to start as well. But the majority of NHL teams like the Boston Bruins will play to empty buildings to start. The Canadian teams, of course, are expected to start in a Hub City and some teams like the San Jose Sharks may have to host their games in a different city based on local protocols. The hope and expectations for teams like the Bruins is that they can build to a decent percentage of fans inside the arenas by the time the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in May, and continue into the summer months of June and July.
But all of it will depend on the COVID-19 numbers, the effectiveness of the vaccine and just how quickly society can bounce back to some semblance of normalcy.
The Bruins will be in the East Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres this season, and will play every other team in its division eight times to make up the 56-game regular season schedule.
The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with intra-divisional play in the first two rounds (#1 vs. #4; #2 vs. #3). The four teams that advance to the Semifinal Round would be seeded by their regular season points total, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 4 seed in one series and the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meeting in the other.
Formal training camps across the NHL will begin on Jan. 3, but there will be no pre-season games prior to the NHL season getting underway less than two weeks later on Jan. 13.