Announced over the weekend, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association reached an agreement to start the 2021 season on January 13.
The season will feature a compacted, 56-game schedule, that will end on May 8 and will be followed by the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the final Stanley Cup Final game being played no later than July 8. Camps will start on December 31 for teams who failed to qualify for the play-in round in Edmonton in May, while camps for participating teams, such as the Calgary Flames, will start on January 3.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the US-Canada border, this season will feature new divisions and a division-only schedule for teams. Notably, the Calgary Flames, usually members of the Pacific Division, will participate in the ‘North Division’ comprised of all of the Canadian teams.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature the top four teams from each division with intradivisional play in the first two rounds (divisional 1 seed vs. divisional 4 seed, 2 seed vs. 3 seed).
What Else Is New
To facilitate player movement between the AHL and NHL, this year each NHL team will carry a ‘taxi squad’ of between four and six players, one of which must be a goalie.
Organizationally, the Calgary Flames and Stockton Heat have six goalies signed: Jacob Markstrom (NHL, one-way), David Rittich (NHL, one-way), Louis Domingue (NHL, two-way), Artyom Zagidulin (NHL, two-way), Tyler Parsons (NHL, two-way) and Andrew Shortridge (AHL-ECHL, two-way). Skaters who are on two-way deals in 2021 and earned a NHL call-up last season include defensemen Oliver Kylington and Alexander Yelesin as well as forwards Dillon Dube, Glenn Gawdin, Matthew Phillips and Zac Rinaldo. All transactions from the NHL team to the taxi squad are subject to waiver requirements.
A tweak to the NHL’s off-side rule will begin in 2021, with a player entering the offensive zone no longer having to remain in contact with the blue line as the puck enters the attacking area. Rather, the player must have not completely broken the plane of the blue line. Similar to crossing the goal line in football, the ‘plane’ will start on the front edge of the blue line and extend vertically. No change has been made at this time at the AHL level.
Release the Kraken
The NHL also announced significant dates for the upcoming season, including a July 21, 2021 expansion draft for the league’s 32nd franchise, the Seattle Kraken. Teams must submit their respective protected list of players to shield from the expansion draft by 5 p.m. ET on July 17.