Update: The news is now official. The Hurricanes will play in the Central Division, and games will take place only within divisions (so no influxes, such as they would be given capacity restrictions, of Penguins or Rangers fans this season!). The release from the NHL and NHLPA is below. Our original story follows.
According to reports from all the usual sources, the 2020-21 NHL season will begin January 13, ten months to the day since the COVID-19 pandemic paused the 2019-20 regular season, after the NHL and NHLPA reached an agreement Friday night. The news was first reported by Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic and Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.
Update: Sunday morning, the usual suspects started tweeting out critical dates for the 2020-21 season:
- Season start: January 13
- Trade deadline: April 12
- End of regular season: May 8
- Latest date for Stanley Cup Final: July 15
- Expansion draft: July 21
- 2021 NHL Draft: July 23-24
- Start of free agency: July 28
There will be 116 days of the regular season, which with 56 games scheduled averages out to a game every 2.07 days. While the schedule will certainly be compressed, there shouldn’t be any runs of 5 games in a week or three games in a row.
The schedule also gives the NHL the chance to finish the playoffs before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, which begin July 23. The 2021 off-season will be about a month shorter than standard, but this schedule puts the NHL in a position to begin the 2021-22 season on time or close to it, which is important since 2022 is an Olympic year and the league will need to plan for a few weeks off during that season to accommodate.
As had been predicted, LeBrun reports that the season will comprise 56 games, and Renaud P. Lavoie of TVA Sports adds that the division of all-Canadian teams is expected to come to fruition. It had been reported earlier this week that the division was in danger of not being allowed to play in Canada, and the NHL continues to consider contingency plans to allow teams to play, either by moving teams to the United States in the way the Toronto Raptors (Tampa) and Blue Jays (Buffalo) have done, or perhaps by putting all seven Canadian teams in a bubble in Edmonton. Frank Seravalli of TSN reports that the NHL continues discussions with Canadian provincial and federal government authorities to determine a way forward.
Training camp, according to Seravalli, will begin January 3, with the seven teams that did not participate in the August return to play allowed to begin camp on December 31. Rod Brind’Amour had told Canes Country in an interview last month that he thought teams could get ready to go with a training camp of a week and no preseason games, and it seems like we will see nearly that exact scenario play out.
Seravalli also reports that each team will be allowed to carry a “taxi squad” of between four and six AHL players who will travel and practice with the NHL squad. Those players will be paid their AHL salary, according to Seravalli, and the collective bargaining agreement is being tweaked to allow for easy recalls and to account for their presence on the NHL club outside the bounds of the salary cap, which will remain at $81.5 million.
Additionally, Seravalli further reports that players who are themselves at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or have high-risk family members will have the option to opt out of the season. Unlike in the return to play in August, though, any player who opts out of the season will not be paid. Clubs will have the option of tolling the contract year, essentially sliding the remainder of the contract forward one year, of players who opt out.
With the plan for the Canadian teams still unresolved, the NHL has not committed to divisional alignments. The most recent expectation was that the Carolina Hurricanes would be in a division with the Florida teams, the Detroit Red Wings, the Columbus Blue Jackets and three teams from the Central Division; Michael Russo of The Athletic reports that the Dallas Stars are expected to be one of those teams, along with the previously reported Blackhawks and Predators.
Without the divisions in place, a schedule is still pending, although it seems likely that teams will only play other teams within their division this year, giving the Hurricanes eight games apiece against the other seven teams. Friedman reports that the 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs will be contested by the top four teams in each division, with no wild cards or crossovers.
Approvals are still required by the NHLPA, which has an executive committee conference call tonight, and by the NHL Board of Governors, which will convene an emergency meeting this weekend to discuss the potential agreement. This post will be updated as necessary with new developments.
National Hockey League, National Hockey League Players’ Association Announce Plans for 2020-21 Regular Season and Playoffs
NEW YORK / TORONTO (Dec. 20, 2020) – The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) and National Hockey League (NHL) announced today an agreement to play a 2020-21 regular-season schedule of 56 games beginning Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, and concluding on May 8. As part of the agreement, the Stanley Cup Playoffs would feature 16 teams in the traditional best-of-seven, four-round format and conclude around mid-July with the plan of returning to a “normal” hockey calendar for the 2021-22 season (regular season beginning in October). The NHL and NHLPA will release the Health and Safety Protocols, transition rules and critical dates calendar as well as the 2020-21 schedule in the coming days.
Given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHLPA and the NHL intend to be flexible and adaptable in their approach during the coming weeks to ensure compliance with directives from both local and national governmental and health authorities focusing on the health and safety of the players, other game-related personnel and the communities in which we play. The priority will continue to be focused on the health and safety of our fans and Players and Club, League, NHLPA and arena personnel.
“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season, especially since the Return to Play in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “While we are well aware of the challenges ahead, as was the case last spring and summer, we are continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and play. And, as was the case last spring and summer, I thank the NHLPA, particularly Executive Director Don Fehr, for working cooperatively with us to get our League back on the ice.”
“The Players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting for the fans and Players alike,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”
In reaching agreement on the format for the 2020-21 season, the NHL and NHLPA determined that the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada border required realignment and the League and the Players also sought to minimize team travel as much as possible by shifting to exclusively intradivisional play. It is the current plan to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will not, at least in the initial part of the season, be able to host fans. However, depending on prevailing conditions both in local markets and across North America, the League will be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.
For the 2020-21 season, teams will be re-aligned as follows:
Each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play every other team in its division eight times while each team in the North Division will play every other team in its division nine or 10 times.
The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with intradivisional 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 will begin on Jan. 3. There will be no pre-season games. The seven teams that did not participate in the 2019-20 Return to Play will be permitted to open their training camps as early as Dec. 31.