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Every Important Date and Change For NHL’s 2021 Return to Play

On Sunday, all the critcal dates, rules and contract changes come down for the NHL’s return to play in 2021. Here’s what you need to know.

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A number of dates and contract specifics are coming down the pipe on Sunday, all of which give us a better indication as to how the 2021 season (and offseason) will unfold. There are new dates, expansion rule changes, taxi squad details are more worth mentioning and it could change how teams prepare over the next couple of weeks.

Related: Insider Tells Corey Perry “Go Home” to Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are the key dates to know:

  • 2021 Season Start Date: Jan. 13
  • NHL Trade Deadline: April 12
  • End of regular season: May 8
  • NHL Expansion Draft (Seattle Kraken): July 21
  • NHL Entry Draft: July 23-24
  • NHL Free-agent Frenzy: July 28 July 29

Player Opt-Outs: 

For any players that aren’t fond of the way all of this is unfolding, they have the right to opt-out of the 2020-21 NHL season without discipline or penalty. Specific details of an opt-out depend on whether the player is opting out “voluntarily” or is doing so because of heightened medical risk.

If voluntary, the players must provide written notice to his club at least seven days before his club opens training camp (so by Dec. 24 for the non-playoff teams and by Dec. 27 for the other 24 teams).

Training Camps:

NHL training camps will include 36 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies. The unlimited number of goalies aspect is something to take note of, including the rule that NHL teams are required to carry at least three goalies at all times this season. This is between the active roster and taxi squad. That could mean we see a run of free agent goaltenders signed here in the next couple of days.

Entry-Level Contracts:

No-movement clauses are extended through July so that any player supposed to have one through the Seattle expansion draft still does. As for Entry-level contracts, the slide status is lost when 18 and 19 year old prospects play 7 NHL games (10 GP prorated by 56/82).

This could affect players such as Los Angeles’ Quinton Byfield, Winnipeg’s Cole Perfetti, Toronto’s Nick Robertson and others. In a normal year, they might not have played 10 games, but in this COVID-shortened season, they could play more than six games.

NHL Divisions Finalized:

North Division:

  • CGY
  • EDM
  • MTL
  • OTT
  • TOR
  • VAN
  • WIN

East Division:

  • BOS
  • BUF
  • NJD
  • NYI
  • NYR
  • PHI
  • PIT
  • WSH

Central Division:

  • CAR
  • CHI
  • CBJ
  • DAL
  • DET
  • FLA
  • NSH
  • TBL

West Division:

  • ANA
  • ARI
  • COL
  • LAK
  • MIN
  • STL
  • SJS
  • VGK

2021 NHL Playoff Format:

This year’s playoffs will look a little different than in a typical year. According to Pierre LeBrun, it will be a straight divisional playoff format for this season only: 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3, in each division because of the U.S.-Canada border.

The reason for this is so that the NHL can avoid the border issue as long as possible.

Taxi Squad Details:

Teams must carry no fewer than four additional players and no more than six. Waivers are required for a player that would require waivers to be loaned to the minors. Recalls for NHL games must occur before 5PM EST with the exception of goaltenders and one goalie is required on the taxi squad for teams with less than three goaltenders on the active roster.

Taxi squad players can practice, travel with the team and join team activities. They are not permitted to join any other team (including the AHL) and if a taxi squad player is deemed unfit to play, the NHL team must request they not be counted towards their six person taxi squad.

The cap hits of the taxi squad players are the equivalent of a player being in the minors (ie. a buried cap hit). As Cap Friendly points out, “Teams that are looking to develop their prospects may see the Taxi Squad as a big benefit to their development.” They add, “The Taxi Squad players get to practice, attend events, and travel with the NHL team, all while being paid a Minors salary and without acquiring a roster spot.”

Seattle Expansion Notes

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the expansion draft will be held on July 21, two days before the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

As for what all the changes mean when it comes to the NHL expansion draft, the following alterations have been made to layer exposure requirements:

  • 40GP requirement becomes 27GP [56/82]
  • 70GP requirement becomes 54GP [(56+70)/164]
  • Career ending injury threshold of 60 consecutive GP becomes 41GP [56/82].

Next: Renewed Urgency for Free Agents Like Mike Hoffman

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