Exploring the rule changes for the 2021 NHL season and how they’ll affect the Blackhawks

This season is going to look a little different. Here’s what to expect once the puck drops.

In a little over three weeks, the Blackhawks will return to the ice after losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This season promises to be different than the ‘19-20 version thanks to the ongoing pandemic. What’s going to be different this season and how will that affect the Blackhawks?

Let’s find out:

New preseason/training camp plans

The Blackhawks will begin training camp on Jan. 3, along with the other 23 teams that qualified for the expanded 2020 postseason. The seven teams that did not qualify will open training camp on New Year’s Eve. There will be no preseason games.

Teams can invite 36 players and an unlimited number of goalies to camp.

What it means for the Blackhawks: A shortened training camp without preseason games makes it highly unlikely that any unheralded players will emerge in the weeks leading up to the season. It also makes for an awful quick evaluation period for the Blackhawks’ unproven goalie trio. More on them later.

New “taxi squad” roster

Each team will play with a 23-man roster under an $81.5 million salary cap. Each team will also be allowed to carry between four and six additional players that will travel and practice with the team as an additional precaution against lineup spots that could be vacated by COVID-19 protocols.

What it means for the Blackhawks: One dilemma this creates for the team is how to handle its players who are AHL/NHL tweeners. Is it worth it keeping them around the NHL club or would they be better served playing games in Rockford? Considering Chicago’s recent commitment to its younger players, how it handles the taxi squad will be worth eyeing all season.

New goalie requirement

As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported on Sunday morning, teams will be required to have three total goalies between its active roster and taxi squad throughout the season.

What it means for the Blackhawks: Similar to the issue above, what will the Blackhawks do with its goalie trio of Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban after the No. 1 and No. 2 are established? Will Chicago leave all three at the NHL level or send the third to the IceHogs to keep them at game speed? The Blackhawks would have the cap space to add another goalie into this mix if its desired — even after they pay whatever Dylan Strome’s salary demands end up being.

New divisions

The Blackhawks are in the newly formed Central Division along with two familiar foes joining in the move: the Predators and Stars. The realignment brings five new teams into the mix: Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers and an old friend: the Red Wings.

The other three new divisions:

East: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

North: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg

West: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas

What it means for the Blackhawks: Chicago will be well acquainted with all of these teams by season’s end: the 56-game schedule will see the Blackhawks face its divisional opponents eight times apiece. One positive development: for those in the same time zone as Chicago, no more 9:30 starts! Losing the long-standing rivalry with the Blues is a disappointment, but having the Blackhawks in a division without the Red Wings for the last several seasons always felt strange.

New playoff format

After the regular season, the top four teams in each division will face off in two postseason rounds to crown a winner from each division. Then, those four division victors will be seeded based on their regular season point totals and compete in two more playoff rounds to determine which team lifts the Stanley Cup.

What it means for the Blackhawks: It’s incredibly unlikely but, in this format, the Blackhawks could face the Blues in a Stanley Cup Final.

New ad placement

In an apparent attempt to generate revenue lost to the pandemic, the NHL is allowing teams to put advertisements on the side of players’ helmets. According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, this is not a permanent move.

What it means for the Blackhawks: Perhaps this newfound income will help generate some extra hockey-related revenue and send the salary cap higher in a season or two?