The NHL’s return to play is nearing. There are plenty of updates in the mix and there will be more in the future.
2021 NHL Return to Play: When Does it Start?
The NHL and the Players Association agreed to a 56 game season. The training camps for the seven non-playoff teams will launch on December 30th. These are the teams that did not take part in the summer of return to play. The rest of the teams would begin training camp on January the 3rd. There will be no exhibition games nor will there be any preseason games. The target date for the season’s onset occurs January 13th.
NHL Return to Play: First Day of the Season
Opening Day will start with a triple-header. The reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, will have their banner raising ceremony. There will also most likely be a couple of East versus East and West versus West games along with the Lightning as the highlight event. You can expect a fun-filled evening of rivalry games.
NHL Return to Play: All Canadian Division
The Canadian Division is forming to create new rivalries. However, the new Canadian Division is not 100% finalized due to the NHL wanting to have all markets to be able to play in their home arenas. The Federal Government has been ok with this plan as long as all of the health and safety regulators sign off on it.
British Columbia is the only province that has not signed off on the NHL return to play proposal. This was highly speculated that this providence would give the plan a rough time. In the summertime, British Columbia almost didn’t sign off on Vancouver as one of the hub cities. This is why they shipped one of the hub sites to the Edmonton area.
There is one way of rectifying the problem if Vancouver doesn’t want to sign off. All the Canadian teams can relocate to the United States or Vancouver can share a building with another neighboring team.
Regardless to say, the Canadian division should be able to work. There is an extremely high confidence level of this being accomplished. By Tuesday, there should be an official announcement.
NHL Return to Play: Division Alignment
As was stated above, there will be a Canadian Division comprising of the seven Canadian teams. There will be three divisions in the states; the East, the West, and the Central.
The Eastern Division will feature:
- Boston Bruins
- Buffalo Sabres
- New Jersey Devils
- New York Rangers
- New York Islanders
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Washington Capitals
The Central Division will consist of:
- Detroit Red Wings
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Nashville Predators
- Dallas Stars
- Florida Panthers
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Carolina Hurricanes
The Western Division will comprise of:
- Minnesota Wild
- St. Louis Blues
- Los Angeles Kings
- San Jose Sharks
- Anaheim Ducks
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Arizona Coyotes
- Colorado Avalanche
NHL Return to Play: Playoff Format
The playoffs will be divisionally based. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs. Seed one will play seed four and seed two will play seed three from each division. Then the winners play each other for a divisional championship. Then there will be semi-finals followed by the Stanley Cup Finals.
This will guarantee a Canadian team to be in the semi-finals playing for a chance at the Stanley Cup. This has not been done since 1993.
NHL Return to Play: Expanded Rosters
Each team will have a taxi squad. Each player on the taxi squad will play on an AHL salary. This will help teams from a salary cap perceptive and get them out of a jam. They can take a player from the taxi squad if someone on the NHL roster has to miss time. This gives extra players at easy disposal. They will travel and practice with the team.
The expanded rosters will be a godsend for teams struggling with the salary cap. They can carry less than the required 23 players and keep a taxi squad of minor league salaried players to help with the cap.
NHL Return to Play: Conclusion
Just a reminder, this is just a resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to end this season in June or July. Then, there would be a free agency period in August and start a regular-season on time in 2022. Hopefully, by then, things will be back to normal.
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