Sunday, December 20, 2020

NHL, NHLPA make it official: 2020-21 season to start Jan. 13

Sides come to agreement on 56-game schedule, season ending May 8; 
Blues placed in West Division and play divisional opponents only for one year 

ST. LOUIS -- The NHL and NHLPA made it official on Sunday: hockey's back.

The league and players' association announced on Sunday an agreement to play a 2020-21 regular-season schedule of 56 games that will start with training camps for non-playoff teams on Dec. 31, playoff teams slated to open camp on Jan. 3 and the regular season beginning on Jan. 13, with no preseason games, and ending May 8.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues will be on the ice Jan. 3 for the start of training camp and prepare 
for the 2020-21 season set to begin Jan. 13.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs, after being played out last season with 24 teams because of the sudden shortened season among the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), will go back to the traditional 16 teams in a best-of-7, four-round format and conclude roughly in mid-July (no later than July 15) with the plan of returning to a “normal” hockey calendar for the 2021-22 season, with training camps to open in mid-September and 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.

The current plan is to play games in home arenas with the understanding fans will not be permitted to attend in most, at least in the initial portion of the season. But league will be prepared to play games in one or more neutral venues, or bubble, like last season in Toronto and Edmonton, within each respective division should it become necessary and based on potential outbreaks of the virus, should they arise.

The Sharks are not permitted to hold training camp or play games in SAP Center based on the Santa Clara protocols and will open their camp in Arizona.

"The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season, especially since the Return to Play (Plan) in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "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," Fehr said in a statement "During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice."

Both the NHL and NHLPA will be "flexible and adaptable in 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 the league plays. The priority will continue to be focused on the health and safety of fans and players and club, league, NHLPA and arena personnel."

For the upcoming season, teams will be re-aligned into East, Central and West divisions will play every other team in its division eight times while each team in the North Division consisting of an all-Canadian division will play every other team in its division nine or 10 times.
For the Blues, who will be in the West Division for one season before returning back to the Central Division, they will play the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The schedule, to be released in the near future, could see teams play an opponent two consecutive times in one venue in order to minimize travel.

The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs, with intra-divisional play in the first two rounds (No. 1 vs. No. 4, No. 2 vs. No. 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.
Players have the option to opt out of the season should they have concerns, like inside the bubble last season, of playing or being a higher health risk because of the virus. The opt-out deadline is Dec. 24 for the non-playoff teams and for the Blues, that deadline is Dec. 27.

Training camps consist of 36 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies because of the shortened training camp, and with a taxi squad in play this season, teams are required to carry at least three goalies at all times this season between the active and taxi squads. Rosters will be the normal 23 but teams will be allowed to carry 4-6 taxi squad players, which will consist of players normally playing in the American Hockey League.

Taxi squad players can practice and take part in team activities and player meetings and could travel to road games but can't play in games. They will be paid AHL salaries.

The trade deadline will be April 12 for the upcoming season, the Seattle Kraken expansion draft will take place July 21, the NHL Draft is expected to take place July 23-24 and the start of free agency, normally July 1, will be July 28.

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