Start date and length of next NHL season still up in the air

When the puck will drop to the 2020/21 NHL season and exactly how long it will last is still anybody’s guess. The league announced it is looking at January 1st as a possible season-opening date but it’s too early to tell if it’s going to be realistic. If teams can hit the ice by New Year’s Day, it’s possible that a full 82-game schedule could be played. But the longer the league waits to get going the shorter the campaign will likely be.

The main reason for this is because the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan are scheduled to begin on July 23rd. With the NBC network televising NHL games in America as well as the Olympics, an overlap isn’t really feasible unless NHL games are broadcast on a delayed basis. Therefore, if the season doesn’t get underway until February, fans may see a shortened schedule of anywhere from 48 to 60 regular-season games before the playoffs.

Of course, the uncertainty is due to Covid-19 and the ever-changing rules and regulations that come with the virus. Currently, it looks like the Canadian clubs may remain in their own nation and play each other in a seven-team division. Much like MLS soccer and Major League Baseball, Canadian teams aren’t likely to be flying in and out of the USA until things change drastically.

This isn’t written in stone though since current 14-day quarantine periods for those crossing the border could be relaxed in the near future due to the introduction of rapid Covid-19 testing at certain airports. If arriving players can be tested when landing then cross-border travel will become a more reasonable option. Clubs would be able to safely visit other cities to play. However, common sense would see teams playing at least two games when visiting another city before moving on to the next nearby town.

For instance, if the Los Angeles Kings head to the New York area, they could play two games each against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers etc. before taking off again. The same scenario would take place in other areas of North America where teams are based in the same geographical region such as Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

The only thing that is guaranteed for the 2020/21 season is that the Winter Classic game in Minnesota on New Year’s Day won’t be taking place and neither will the All-Star weekend in Florida later in the month. And as far as fans go, it’s possible some NHL rinks may allow a certain number to attend games in person, much like MLS and MLB stadiums have recently been doing.

Right now, the NHL is evaluating all scenarios and monitoring the Covid-19 situation across North America. This includes travel restrictions and government guidelines and how they affect public gatherings. The best-case scenario for the league would see all major airports open rapid-testing stations for arriving flights to eliminate or shorten the current 14-day mandatory quarantine requirements.

As far as the other North American hockey leagues are concerned, the American Hockey League hopes to begin on December 4th while the East Coast Hockey League plans on having some teams face off for the first time on December 11th with the rest of the clubs joining in on January 15th. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is already underway while the Ontario Hockey League has pencilled in December 1st as the opening day and the Western Hockey League is looking at January 8th.

Salary arbitration next in busy NHL offseason

Hockey fans have already been treated to the Entry Draft, the start of free agency and numerous trades since the Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champion a few weeks ago and salary arbitration is now on deck.

Salary arbitration is for restricted free agents who qualify as a way to settle contract offers and disputes. The hockey club and player each propose an expected salary amount for an upcoming season and argue their cases before a third-party arbitrator. The arbitrator then decides which contract offer is the fairest and both parties then abide to it. However, the team or player can simply walk away from the decision of they choose.

The current arbitration system was introduced following the 1994/95 NHL lockout and is covered by the collective bargaining agreement agreed to by the NHL Players’ Association and the league. Restricted free agency is ruled by a combination of a player’s age when being signed to their first professional contract as well as their amount of experience in any of the world’s pro hockey leagues.

Those who ink their first contracts from the age of 18 to 21 will be restricted free agents following their first three seasons of pro experience. Players who first signed at 22 or 23 become restricted free agents with two years of pro experience and if signing your first pro deal at the age of 24 or older you qualify as a restricted free agent following the first year of experience.

There are one, two and three-year standard entry-level contracts which all players entering the NHL must sign if they’re under the age of 25. The length of the contract depends on their age with shorter deals for older players. Typically, a drafted player signs a three-year entry-level contract and becomes a restricted free agent when it expires.

When the contract is over their NHL club has to give them a qualifying offer for a new one-year deal after the Entry Draft. This enables the team to retain negotiating rights with the player. If a team doesn’t send a qualifying offer then the player is eligible for unrestricted free agency. Depending on the player’s previous salary, qualifying offers must include a raise of five or 10 per cent unless they were making over $1 million a season. In this case, the qualifying offer has to be at least equal to the previous salary.

A player has the right to decline a qualifying offer and remain a restricted free agent. Those who turn the offer down can negotiate a new contract with the club but won’t be able to play in the NHL if they haven’t agreed to terms by a specific date, which is generally December 1st. Restricted free agents are eligible to speak with other NHL clubs and allowed to sign an offer sheet with a team if one is received. If an offer sheet is signed, his club has the right to match it within seven days but isn’t allowed to trade him or negotiate a contract during this time.

If the offer sheet is matched and the player stays, his team isn’t allowed to trade him for a year. If an offer sheet isn’t matched, the team that signs the player must give up draft picks as compensation. The exact draft picks and the number of them are determined by the average annual dollar-size of the contract over five years. The more the contract is worth the more draft picks have to be given up. Restricted free agents can also sit out the season if they don’t sign. .

Restricted free agents who have played in the NHL for a minimum of four years or signed their first professional contract at 20 years of age or older are eligible to request salary arbitration. The player’s club also has the right to request arbitration. If the ruling favours the player and the player requested arbitration, the team must decide within 48 hours if it wants to pay the salary or let the player qualify for unrestricted free agency by walking away from the deal. If the team requested arbitration they can’t walk away and have to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

The most common evidence used in hearings includes a player’s statistics, overall performance, games played, injuries, illnesses, length of service in the league and with the club and their leadership qualities. In addition, the player’s salary is often compared to that of players in the league with similar statistics etc.

The NHL and Major League Baseball are the only two major North American sports to use the arbitration system. This year’s arbitration hearings are scheduled to be held between Oct. 21st and Nov. 8th with 26 players restricted free agents having filed.

Defenceman Matt Grzelcyk of the Boston Bruins was scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 20 but agreed to a four-year deal with the club worth a total of $14.75 million on Oct. 17.Other players who signed before their hearings were goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen with Minnesota, blue liner Ryan Graves with Colorado, forward Nick Paul with Ottawa, netminder Alexandar Georgiev with the New York Rangers, forward , Clark Bishop with Carolina and forward Andrew Mangiapane with Calgary.

The remaining players scheduled for salary arbitration are:

Buffalo Sabres: Victor Olofsson, F; Sam Reinhart, F; Linus Ullmark, G

Carolina Hurricanes: Haydn Fleury, D; Warren Foegele, F; Gustav Forsling, D

Colorado Avalanche: Devon Toews, D

Detroit Red Wings: Tyler Bertuzzi, F

Florida Panthers: MacKenzie Weegar, D

New York Islanders: Joshua Ho-Sang, F; Ryan Pulock, D

New York Rangers: Brendan Lemieux, F; Ryan Strome, F

Ottawa Senators: Connor Brown, F; Christian Jaros, D; Nick Paul, F; Chris Tierney , F

Toronto Maple Leafs; Ilya Mikheyev, F

Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen, F

NHL free agency frenzy kicks off

In a normal year, the NHL would have just faced off in early October for another long season. However, these aren’t normal times and the league just just completed its Entry Draft with the free agency frenzy following on Oct. 9th. Below is a wrap up of the major signings and as of Oct. 11th.

Major NHL Free Agent Signings

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks signed rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk from Tampa Bay for three years for  $11.7M.

Arizona Coyotes: Forward Tyler Pitlick was signed from Philadelphia for two years at $3.5M

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres managed to snag former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall for one year at $8 million. The forward played with New Jersey and Arizona last season. They also inked forward Cody Eakin from Winnipeg to a two-year deal for $4.5M. Defender Brandon Montour was re-signed for a year at $3.85M.

Calgary Flames: The Flames grabbed goaltender Jakob Markstrom from Vancouver for six years for $36M and blue liner Chris Tanev from Vancouver for four years at $18M.

Carolina Hurricanes: Forward Jesper Fast was inked from the New York Rangers for three years for $6M.

Chicago Blackhawks: Forward Dominik Kubalik was re-signed for two years for $7.4M.

Colorado Avalanche: Forward Andre Burakovsky was re-signed for two years for $9.8M and forward Valeri Nichushkin was re-signed for two years at $5M. .

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Jackets signed forward Mikko Koivu from Minnesota for a season at  $1.5M.

Dallas Stars: The Stars re-signed goaltender Anton Khudobin for three years for $10M and centre Radek Faska for $16.25M over five years.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings signed forward Vladislav Namestnikov from Colorado for two years for $4M. Goaltender Thomas Greiss was inked from the New New York Islanders for two years for $7.2M and forward Bobby Ryan from Ottawa for a year at $1M. Defender Troy Stetcher was taken from Vancouver for two years at $3.4M.

Edmonton Oilers: Goaltender Mike Smith was re-signed for another season at $2M while blue liner Tyson Barrie was signed from Toronto for a season at $3.75M. Forward Tyler Ennis was re-signed for a year at $1M while forward Kyle Turris was inked from Nashville for two years for $3.3M.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers inked forward Alexander Wennberg from Columbus for a year at $2.25M and forward Carter Verhaeghe from Tampa for two years for $2M. They also grabbed blue liner Radko Gudas from Washington for three years at $7.5M.

Minnesota Wild: Goaltender Cam Talbot was signed from Calgary for three years at $11M.

Nashville Predators: Nashville signed forward Nick Cousins from Vegas for two years for $3M and defenceman Matt Benning from Edmonton for two years at $2M. They also took defenceman Mark Borowiecki from Ottawa for two years for $4M.

New Jersey Devils: Goaltender Corey Crawford was signed from Chicago for two years for $7.8M.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts inked defenceman Jack Johnson from Pittsburgh for a year at $1M.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues signed forward Kyle Clifford from Toronto two years for$2M. They also snagged defenceman Torey Krug from Boston for seven years for seven years for $45.5M.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Forward Patrick Maroon was re-signed for two years at $1.8M and defender Luke Schenn was kept for another year for $800K.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs signed defender Zach Bogosian from Tampa for a year at $1M and defender T.J. Brodie from Calgary for four years for $20M. Forward Wayne Simmonds was signed from Buffalo for $1.5 million for a year and forward Jimmy Vesey was also signed from Buffalo for $900k for a season. Forward Travis Boyd was inked from Washington for a year at $700k.

Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver signed goaltender Braden Holtby from Washington for two years for $8.6M.

Washington Capitals: The Caps inked Trevor van Riemsdyk from Carolina for a year at $800k and fellow blue liner Justin Schultz from Pittsburgh for two years for $8M. They also took goaltender Henrik Lundquist from the New York Rangers for a season at $1.5M.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets re-signed defenceman Nathan Beaulieu for two years for $2.5M.

NHL Draft kicks off busy offseason

The first round of the NHL Entry Draft was held on Oct. 6th with the draft lottery winners the New York rangers surprising nobody by selecting Alexis Lafreniere first overall. The 18-year-old left-winger from Rimouski of the QMJHL notched 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points in 57 games this season for an average of 2.15 points-per-game. The only two players 18 or younger to average more points-per-game in a junior season over the past 20 years have been Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Drouin.

  1. The Los Angeles Kings picked Quinton Byfield from Sudbury of the OHL next after the 6-foot-4-inch, 215 lb centre posted 32 goals and 50 assists for 82 points in 45 outings this season. Byfield makes history as being the highest-drafted black player in league history. His 1.82 points-per-game were fifth best in the OHL this year.
  1. The Ottawa Senators had the third pick and took left-winger Tim Stutzle from Mannheim, Germany. He tallied seven goals and 27 helpers for m34 points in 41 contests this year
  1. The Detroit Red Wings selected left-winger Lucas Raymond from Frolunda, Sweden with the fourth pick after he scored four goals and six assists in 33 games this season in the Under-20 League in Sweden.
  1. The fifth pick belonged to the Ottawa Senators who chose defenceman Jake Sanderson from the USA U18 National development Team after contributing seven goals and 22 assists for 29 points in 47 outings.
  1. The Anaheim Ducks chose blue liner Jamie Drysdale from Erie of the OHL with the sixth pick following his season of nine goals and 38 assists for 47 points in 49 games.
  1. Right-winger Alexander Holtz went seventh overall to the New Jersey Devils. The righ-winger played with Djurgarden in Sweden last season and posted nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 35 encounters.
  1. The Buffalo Sabres selected right-winger Jack Quinn eighth from Ottawa of the OHL after he chipped in with 52 goals and 37 assists for 89 points in 62 games.
  2. The ninth overall pick was used by the Minnesota Wild and they chose Austrian centre Marco Rossi from Ottawa of the OHL. He’s just 5-feet-9-inches tall but notched 39 goals and 81 assists for 120 points in 56 games this season for an average of 2.14 points-per-game.
  1. The Winnipeg Jets selected 10th and took centre Cole Perfetti from Saginaw of the OHL after he scored 37 goals and 74 assists for 11 points in 61 games this year.

The remainder of the first round of the draft went as follows

  1. Nashville Predators: Goaltender Yaroslav Askarov from Neva St. Petersburg (Russia 2)-Stats: 18 GP, 0.92 Save Pct., 2.45 GAA
  1. Florida Panthers: Centre Anton Lundell from HIFK (Finland)-Stats: 44 GP, 10 G, 18 A
  1. Carolina Hurricanes: Centre Seth Jarvis from Portland (WHL)-Stats: 58 GP, 42 G, 56 A
  1. Edmonton Oilers: Centre Dylan Holloway from Wisconsin (Big Ten)-Stats: 35 GP, 8 G, 9 A
  1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Left-winger Rodion Amirov-unrestricted free agent from KHL in Russia-Stats: 21 GP, 0 G, 2 A
  1. Montreal Canadiens: Defenceman Kaiden Guhle from Prince Albert (WHL)-Stats: 64 GP, 11 G, 29
  2. Chicago Blackhawks: Left-winger Lukas Reichel from Eisbaren Berlin (Germany)-Stats: 42 GP, 12 G, 12 A
  1. New Jersey Devils: Centre Dawson Mercer from Chicoutimi (QMJHL)-Stats: 42 GP, 24 G, 36 A
  1. New York Rangers: Defenceman Braden Schneider from Brandon (WHL)-Stats: 60 GP, 7 G, 35 A
  1. New Jersey Devils: Defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin-unrestricted free agent from KHL in Russia-Stats: 27 GP, 0 G, 1 A
  1. Columbus Blue Jackets: Right-winger Yegor Chinakhov from Omsk 2 (Russia Jr.)-Stats: 56 GP, 27 G, 42 A
  1. Washington Capitals: Centre Hendrix Lapierre from Chicoutimi (QMJHL)-Stats: 19 GP, 2 G, 15 A
  1. Philadelphia Flyers: Right-winger Tyson Foerster from Barrie (OHL)-Stats: 62 GP, 36 G, 44 A
  1. Calgary Flames: Centre Connor Zary from Kamloops (WHL)-Stats: 57 GP, 38 G, 48 A
  1. Colorado Avalanche: Defenceman Justin Barron from Halifax (QMJHL)- Stats: 34 GP, 4 G, 15 A
  1. St. Louis Blues: Left-winger Jake Neighbours from Edmonton (WHL)-Stats: 64 GP, 23 G, 47 A
  1. Anaheim Ducks: Right-winger Jacob Perreault from Sarnia (OHL)-Stats: 57 GP, 39 G, 31 A
  1. Ottawa Senators: Centre Ridly Greig from Brandon (WHL)-Stats: 56 GP, 26 G, 34 A
  1. Vegas Golden Knights: Centre Brendan Brisson from Chicago (USHL)-Stats: 45 GP, 24 G, 35 A
  1. Dallas Stars: Centre Mavrik Bourque from Shawinigan (QMJHL)-Stats: 49 GP, 29 G, 42 A
  1. San Jose Sharks: Right-winger Ozzy Wiesblatt from Prince Albert (WHL)-Stats: 64 GP, 25 G, 45 A

There were also several NHL trades leading up to draft day as the Montreal Canadiens shipped Max Domi and a third-round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for fellow forward Josh Anderson. In addition, the San Jose Sharks picked up veteran goaltender Devan Dubnyk and a seventh-round draft pick in 2022 from the Minnesota Wild for a fifth-round pick in 2022. The Sharks also acquired forward Ryan Donato from the Wild for a third-round pick in 2021.

The Los Angeles Kings got in on the action by acquiring defenceman Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brad Morrison. The Ottawa Senators received blue liner Joshua Brown from the Florida Panthers for a fourth-round pick in 2020 and then signed him to a two-year deal worth a total of $2.4 million.