Game on. The NHL and its players have agreed on the parameters of the 2020-21 season, which will begin on Jan. 13 and end on May 8, with playoffs to follow. Training camps will begin on Jan. 3 for most franchises, but the seven teams that missed last season’s Return to Play tournament (OTT, ANA, LA, DET, BUF, NJ, SJ) will be allowed to start camp on Dec. 31. There are still some matters of attendance and locations to be determined and as with everything right now, a lot of that will be influenced by the pandemic. But we do know a lot.
The NHL will have four new divisions this year, highlighted by an all-Canadian segment that protects the league from border restrictions. Regular-season play will be entirely intra-divisional, with teams playing their new rivals eight times – with the exception of the Canadian teams, who will play each other nine. So as expected, it’s a 56-game schedule instead of the usual 82 matches. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs, with teams playing within their division for the first two rounds. From there, the four division winners will be seeded based on regular-season points. No. 1 will play No. 4, No. 2 will play No. 3 (divisional match-ups will also be structured this way). Here are the four divisions:
North: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
West: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas
Central: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay
East: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
In terms of home games, the NHL is hoping to have as many ‘normal’ games as possible, with or without fans. Should a team be unable to play at home, the league is open to hosting games in neutral cities. The San Jose Sharks announced that they will hold their training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, due to local health restrictions back in Northern California. Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars have already revealed their plan (via The Athletic’s Saad Yousuf) to allow 5,000 fans into their building for the start of the regular season.
The Kraken won’t ice a team until 2021-22, but today’s news did reveal when they get to pick their players. The Seattle expansion draft will take place on July 21 and according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the other 31 teams must submit their protected players list by July 17. In an interesting development, Kraken officials will be able to interview any unprotected RFAs or UFAs on July 18. If they decide to sign any to contracts, those players will be considered the pick for their original franchise.
Also of interest to Seattle fans – as well as every other fan base – the 2021 NHL draft will take place July 23-24. Right now, University of Michigan freshman defenseman Owen Power is the top prospect, but with some leagues not even playing yet (the OHL and WHL), a lot is up in the air when it comes to rankings.
The trade deadline is scheduled for April 12, while free agency opens on July 28, four days after the draft. If a player wants to opt out of this season, they must do so by Dec. 24 if their team did not make the Return to Play tournament last season, or Dec. 27 if they did. NHL teams will have taxi squads this year and must carry three goaltenders at all times. Finally, if a rookie plays seven games this season, his entry-level contract will be activated – usually it’s 10 games.