After a tumultuous couple of months, it appears as though we may finally have NHL hockey on the horizon in 2021.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) have reached a tentative agreement on a 2021 season that will feature 56 regular-season games.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun added that the framework of this COVID-impacted campaign still needs approval by both the board of governors (BOG) and the NHLPA's executive committee — with the NHLPA already scheduling a call on Friday night. The board of governors will reportedly schedule a call/vote this weekend.
For as much as the likelihood of a season commencing by a designated Jan. 13 start date (pushed back from the original date of Jan. 1) seemed to dim with each day the NHL/NHLPA negotiations dragged on, it appears as though that timeframe is still holding firm, at least for now — with the Bruins expected to open training camp on Jan. 3.
TSN's Frank Seravalli offered more details on the reported parameters of this season, including:
- A Jan. 13 starting date remains the goal — with the seven NHL clubs that didn't advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs expected to open camp on Dec. 30. The Bruins and the 24 teams that did play in either the Toronto / Edmonton bubbles this past summer will all follow suit on Jan. 3. However, scheduling is not finalized.
- NHL players will have the option to opt-out for the 2021 season — if said player or immediate family member is considered high-risk. Seravalli noted that the belief is a player that opts out will not be paid, while a team will have the option of tolling the contract for a year.
- An $81.5 million salary cap upper limit will remain in place, to go along with a 23-man roster. In addition, a "taxi squad" of 4-6 players will be created — with those players expected to travel and practice with the NHL roster, but will be paid a full AHL salary.
While it would appear as though we could have more tangible news once approval is secured by both the BOG and NHLPA — likely within the next few days — the 2021 NHL season still has a few roadblocks to deal with, namely a potential scenario in which the league's seven Canadian-based teams are forced to play entirely in the U.S. due to varying health protocols across five Canadian provinces.
LeBrun noted that the NHL hopes to reach a resolution by Monday in terms of finding the necessary common ground with the Canada Public Health Agency — which would allow for an all-Canadian division to go on as planned in what will be a regional-based realignment for 2021. However, if the league doesn't get approval and either has to roll with another Edmonton "hub" location or a move stateside for seven teams, this fast-tracked sprint to the starting line could get pushed back even further.
Still, for now, Friday's late-evening news dump stands as the best bit of info hockey fans have received in a long, long time. There will be plenty to sort through in the coming days — whether it be new divisions, a CRUSH of UFAs signing ahead of camp, potential opt-outs, roster moves and much more. But we'll have it all here on BSJ as the Bruins prepare for a drastically different 2021 NHL season.