The National Hockey League formally announced the 56-game 2020-21 NHL season via email on Sunday afternoon. The Pittsburgh Penguins will soon drop the puck as the league acknowledged the shortened season would have challenges but set forth the opening dates and playoff format. The league also announced they will wrap this season in mid-July and return to a normal schedule in October 2021.
Teams that made the 24-team NHL postseason will begin training camp on Jan. 3. The seven teams which were excluded may begin camp on Dec. 31. There will be no exhibition games.
Teams must carry three goalies on their roster, though one may be placed on the newly created “taxi squad.”
The NHL pledged to be flexible as they acknowledged the challenges of working around potential COVID infections. Teams that are unable to field a full game roster but lack salary cap space will be allowed to activate a $1 million player from the taxi squad, according to PuckPedia.com.
If a player opts out of the coming season, the team may “toll” the contract, pushing it forward to 2021-22. Any signing bonuses or salary already received will carry forward to next season. If the team decides not to toll the contract, the player must pay back any signing bonuses and compensation already received.
The Pittsburgh Penguins schedule and playoffs will be divisional. In the regular season, teams will play only within their division. The first two rounds of the playoffs will also be exclusively divisional, as the top four teams will play (1st seed vs. 4th seed, 2 seed vs. 3 seed).
The playoff winner of each division will play in the Stanley Cup semi-finals. All playoff series will be traditional best-of-seven game series.
The NHL also conceded the season would begin without fans in attendance. Local rules will govern their return. The NHL release stated:
“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.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins will play in the Atlantic Division with most of the Metro Division rivals and two additions. The Penguins will play the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, eight times each. The league also included two Northeast teams, the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres, who the Penguins will also play eight times.
Only the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres were not playoff teams last season. The six playoff teams are the most of the four other divisions.
The NHL stated teams will play in their home arenas, which was a story the Hockey Now network broke this week.
The 56-game schedule will limit the number of games junior players, such as Penguins prospect Sam Poulin, can play in the NHL before their entry-level is ineligible to “slide.” Currently, a juniors player can play nine games before a team burns the first year of their ELC. The limit this season will be seven games.
Teams can extend players on expiring contracts on March 12. The NHL trade deadline is April 12. The regular season will end on May 8.
The Seattle Kraken expansion draft will take place on July 21. The first day of NHL free agency is July 28.
Hold on, here we go.