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2020-21 NHL Season Plans are a go: what it means for the Penguins

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The NHL and NHLPA put the wheels in motion to get the next season off the ground starting with games on January 13th

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images

The pieces of how the NHL would try to start their next season have been lining up for a while, but Sunday was a big day for them to announce and start getting the wheels in motion.

From the NHLPA:

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.

“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.”

Here’s a handy chart of all of the key dates that you should start to familiarize yourself with:

January 3rd would be the opening of training camp, but the Penguins are mostly in Pittsburgh and already working out on their own in small groups of informal practices, and have been for a while. The season will start soon, but with nothing else to do, many of these guys have been hanging around the rink and waiting to get going.

That is a very quick turnaround for a lot of those events, especially in late July with the Seattle expansion, the NHL draft and free agency all happening within a week of each other. And, I guess in a weird way, it’s a lowkey positive the Penguins don’t have a first, third or fourth round pick in the 2021 draft in a year where scouting players who are barely playing have to be assessed. Not that they could have known, but if ever there was a year to trade a first round pick for Jason Zucker, this would be about as good a year as possible for that!

But, back to business, there will be a 4-6 player “taxi squad” outside of the typical 23-player roster this season. It will have to include a goalie at all times. For the Penguins, I wonder if this will be good news for a player like 27-year old veteran Maxime Legace, who at least has some NHL experience under his belt. Ditto players like Zach Trotman, Kevin Czuzcman and Frederick Gaudreau as “AAAA” type players who have a bit of NHL experience.

We’ll talk about this more, but the scheduled regular season (January 13th - May 8th) is 116 days. For 56 games, that’s an average of 2.07 days per game. We’ll see just how the schedule looks, but since the regular season is going into May, that helps a lot.

For comparison, the 2012-13 lockout season didn’t start until January 19th and the regular season was over by April 27th. That was a 48 game season, compared to 56 games this year, but this season will have almost 3 extra weeks of time, which is a big advantage.

As expected, teams will only play against their division in the regular season. This will mean four home games and four road games for the American teams in the following breakout.

Playoffs will also be divisional with the 1st seed of a division playing the 4th seed of their division, and 2 vs 3 playing each other with the winners meeting in round two. So out of Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston, Philly, NYI and NYR; I’ve just listed at least two teams who won’t make the playoffs this season. Gonna be tough!

There will also be certain procedural elements for the season like waivers and long-term injury reserve that are NOT being shortened or proportioned in any way, interestingly enough. This is pretty deep into the weeds if you care about such matters, but here it is:

The NHL still has many hurdles to clear, including the one Canadian province (British Columbia, home of the Vancouver Canucks) and Santa Clara county in California (home of the San Jose Sharks) that are not keen or able to allow any contact sports, even without spectators. The NHL has to figure out if they can be able to play in these areas, or if teams like San Jose and Vancouver may have to relocate and play their home games in a different NHL city, much like how the San Francisco 49ers are playing their “home” football games out of the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium currently.

For now, the very positive news is that the league the players have set the course for the start of the season.