The hockey season appears to be on the verge of an official start in just over three weeks.
According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the NHL and its players association have a tentative agreement in place to play a 56-game schedule that would begin on Jan. 13, pending approval from both sides of the bargaining table.
Multiple media reports mark Dec. 30 as the day that training camps can officially open for the seven teams that did not qualify for the 2020 postseason, although TSN’s Frank Seravalli noted that those dates were not set in stone. For the league’s other 24 teams — which includes the Blackhawks — training camp opens on Jan. 3.
Similar to last summer, players also had the option to opt out of the upcoming season, according to Seravalli. No Blackhawks opted out when the league returned for its postseason in the summer of 2020.
Here are a few additional items regarding the salary cap and roster details:
#NHL/#NHLPA Agreement: 23-man roster with $81.5 million salary cap.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 19, 2020
This includes creation of 4-6 man taxi squad. All 29 players (max) will travel and practice with NHL team. Taxi squad is paid full AHL salary. CBA has been expanded to include for more flexible emergency recalls
As reported all week, the NHL is currently planning on going forward with four divisions, including one division for the seven Canadian teams to avoid dealing with travel across the US/Canada border that remains closed by pandemic restrictions. However, the possibility remains that Canadian provinces would not allow hockey games to be played within their own borders, forcing the NHL into of two options: moving all the Canadian teams to a “hub” in Edmonton or moving all the Canadian teams to the US. Neither option appealed to the players, according to Seravalli.
That factor won’t affect the Blackhawks, who are in one of the three divisions comprised of teams from the US. The divisional realignment necessary for this approach to an NHL season will lead to two familiar Blackhawks foes heading west and an old Original Six rivalry being renewed:
- Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Panthers, Predators, Lightning
- Bruins, Sabres, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Capitals
- Ducks, Coyotes, Avalanche, Kings, Wild, Sharks, Blues, Golden Knights
- (Canadian Division) Canadiens, Canucks, Flames, Jets, Maple Leafs, Oilers, Senators
The postseason will remain intra-division until each division produces a single winner. Those four teams will then compete for the final two postseason rounds and the Stanley Cup.