Rejoice, Bruins fans.
After an offseason rife with uncertainty, fiscal squabbling and forebodings of a hockey-less nuclear winter, it's time to breathe easy.
Rather than spending the coming months binging "Bruins Classics" on NESN, you can at last look ahead to the return of pro hockey — as the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the framework of a 56-game season on Friday night.
Although a few roadblocks remain — namely clearance from the Canada Public Health Agency for an All-Canada division and final approval from both the NHL board of governors and NHLPA executive board — it appears inevitable that the Bruins will take to the ice in an empty TD Garden in due time for a new campaign.
"In due time" might be putting it mildly, as we could have the Bruins opening training camp at Warrior Ice Arena as soon as Jan. 3 — so long as current timetables hold.
So with the revelry that comes with the dawn of the new season now comes a sudden rush to the starting line for the Bruins and the other 30 NHL franchises sprinkled across North America.
And while Don Sweeney and the Bruins are in a better spot than most teams on the fiscal front (there are currently 10 teams over the league's upper limit of $81.5 million), that doesn't mean that Boston isn't burdened by an extensive do-to list to check off before camp potentially opens in *fixes glasses* ... 15 days.
While we expect more details to spill out once the parameters surrounding this new season are approved by both the BOG and NHLPA, here's an early look at what Sweeney and the Bruins need to sort out over the next two weeks.
Will there be any opt-outs?
While brighter days might be on the horizon as more COVID vaccines are doled out across the globe in 2021, such optimism shouldn't cloud a dire situation in the present, with cases spiking all over the country. Even though the NHL's framework for this shortened season will adopt safety measures such regional realignment, reduced travel, strict restrictions in team facilities, little to no fans in the stands and much more to open the year, the league will reportedly give players an opportunity to opt-out of this 2021 campaign as well — especially if said player or a member of their family is considered a "high-risk" individual.
A similar measure was offered ahead of the NHL's Return to Play (RTP) plan up in Toronto and Edmonton — with six total players following through in Travis Hamonic, Mike Green, Roman Polak, Sven Baertschi, Karl Alzner ... and Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer.
When Kampfer announced his decision to opt-out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he noted that the primary cause was due to his family, as both his wife and young son have congenital heart defects that could cause complications with COVID-19.
As I said back in July, please spare me any and all of the faux outrage that will be spouted out if any of these athletes prioritize the health and wellbeing of themselves and their family over a game. However, the decision might be made even harder for the players grappling with such a decision if these opt-outs don't include guaranteed pay — a far cry from the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) decision to fully compensate any player that decided to opt-out of their compressed 2021 season up in Lake Placid.
Although the current COVID climate could begin to clear up in the coming months — and the parameters of this new campaign aren't nearly as restrictive as the ones found in the RTP plans — it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if at least a few players opt to sit this season out, as hard of a call as it is.
Will Zdeno Chara return - and could Boston sign another UFA?
With a new season potentially just weeks away and a pool of skilled free agents still without a home, one has to think that there is going to be a deluge of signings and PTO (professional tryout) contracts inked and handed out over the next two weeks.