In one of the worst kept secrets of recent memory, the NHL and NHLPA have been hammering out details finalizing the start of the 2021 season. The tentative agreement of earlier this weekend has been officially approved. With this approval comes the official re-alignment announcement as well as the important dates for the year.
The press release from today states that fans can expect a 56 game season beginning on January 13th, which is what most fans had been expecting. Health and safety protocols are forthcoming, and they should be of interest to everyone because strong protocols means a higher chance of the season going off without too many hitches and rescheduling. The league is more than aware of this, stating:
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.
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.
The realignment is what most fans expected for the Blues, but it’s interesting to note that Dallas is staying in the Central while Minnesota is moving out West. The exact opposite had been expected. It’s a win for the Blues, as it removes one of the tougher possible opponents that they have to see eight times this season.
NHL Divisional realignment for 2021 season.— Ryan Field (@RyanFieldABC) December 20, 2020
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.
Camp opens January 3rd pic.twitter.com/wZROAT4sZ3
It’s also worth mentioning that the league’s key dates are all tentative, but they’re currently set up to encourage the start of a regular season that start at a, well, regular date:
- Opt-out deadline: December 24 for non-playoff teams, December 27 for everyone else
- Regular season start: January 13
- RFA signing deadline (the usual December 1 one): February 11
- Players on one-year deals may sign extensions: March 12
- Regular season end: May 8
- Trade deadline: April 12
- Playoffs over by July 15 at the latest
- Protected lists due for the expansion draft on July 17
- Expansion draft: July 21
- Entry Draft: July 23-24
- Free agency begins: July 28
This means that there will a significantly shorter free-agency period for the 2021-2022 season, as well as a quick turnaround between the winning of the Stanley Cup and the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft. Party fast with your teammates, whoever wins it. You never can tell who’ll be drug to the deep of... uh, Seattle.