Pierre-Luc Dubois for Patrik Laine trade rocks early NHL season

Even though the NHL is playing a reduced 56-game schedule for 2020-21 due to Covid-19, the pandemic hasn’t affected the league when it comes to blockbuster trades. The first major deal of the campaign saw centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round draft pick in 2022 leave the Columbus Blue Jackets and head to the Winnipeg Jets for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the media he had been working on the trade for several days and the timing was right to pull the trigger, especially after the 22-year-old Dubois was recently benched during a game against Tampa Bay and has registered just one goal in five games this season.

Dubois made no secret that he wanted out of Columbus, but it still didn’t stop the restricted free agent from signing a new two-year contract in the offseason for a total of $10 million. Blue Jackets’ head coach John Tortorella had confirmed to the press that Dubois did indeed want to leave even though he led the club in scoring last season with 18 goals and 31 assists for 49 points in 70 games while averaging 17:56 minutes of ice time a night.

Dubois was drafted third overall by Columbus in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft while Laine was taken one spot before him by Winnipeg. Dubois left Columbus with 66 goals, 93 assists and 159 points in 239 contests with another eight goals and 11 helpers for 19 points in 26 playoff outings. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Laine racked up 140 goals and 110 assists for 250 points in 306 games for Winnipeg with eight goals goals and assists for 16 points in 24 playoff encounters. He’s also a power-play specialist with 52 of his regular-season goals coming with the man advantage.

Last season, Laine posted 28 goals and 35 assists for 63 points in 68 games. His goals total was the lowest in his four-season career but his .93 points-per-game total was his highest. Laine, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the campaign, hasn’t had much of a chance to pad his numbers this season though. He played in Winnipeg’s season-opener and has been out of action since due to an upper-body injury. However, he lit it up in that game with two goals and an assist. He’s currently in the second and final year of ┬áhis contract which sees him paid $6.75 million a year.

Columbus GM Kekalainen also stated that he would have traded up at the 2016 Draft if he had the chance at the time as the team would have certainly taken Laine if possible. As for Roslovic, the other player Columbus acquired in the trade, he was an unsigned restricted free agent and quickly inked a two-year deal with the Blue Jackets for a total of $3.8 million. The 23-year-old will be heading home as he’s a native of Columbus who tallied 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 71 games with Winnipeg last season.

Roslovic was chosen 25th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and had 26 goals and 41 assists for 67 points in 180 regular-season career games with five assists in his 20 playoff appearances. All three players involved expressed their excitement with the trade but it’s unclear when they’ll be able to suit up for their new teams due to corona-virus quarantine issues, visa issues and Laine’s injury.

This is the first NHL trade to include two players who were chosen in the top-five of the same NHL Draft since January, 1996. At that time, the Ottawa Senators dealt blue liner Bryan Berard, who was drafted first overall in1995, along with forward Martin Straka and goaltender Don Beaupre to the New York Islanders for rearguard Wade Redden, who was drafted second overall, and goalie Damian Rhodes.

Rule changes for 2020-21 NHL season

With the NHL scheduled to drop the puck on the 2020-21 season on Jan. 13Th, fans should be aware of several rule changes for the campaign. The 56-game season will also see temporary realignment with an all-Canadian division in place. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, several teams have had to postpone on-ice training camp activities and the Dallas Stars season-opening game has been pushed back.

Offside
The biggest rule change concerns the league’s offside rule. Starting this week, a player’s skate doesn’t have to be touching the ice at the blue line to onside. The league’s wording for rule 83.1, which deals with offside now states: “A player is considered to be onside when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line.”

One of the main reasons for the rule change is to cut down on coach’s challenges after goals have been scored. Last season, a total of 14 goals were disallowed after challenges due to the play being ruled offside. The new rule is aimed at creating more offense while making it easier for linesmen to detect if a player is onside or offside.

Team Rosters
Each team will still have a 23-player roster and will have to adhere to the league’s salary cap of $81.5 million. However, clubs will be allowed to carry up to six additional players on what is known as a “taxi squad.” this season. These players will be able to travel and practice with their teams when necessary. If a taxi squad player is on a two-way contract, he will be paid his minor league salary but will receive his NHL salary if activated to the team’s roster.

The purpose of taxi squads is to make it easier for teams to call up players who are needed during the pandemic as they’ll already be with the squad and quarantine won’t be required. Players from the taxi squad who are needed for that night’s game must be called up before 5 pm. With the American Hockey League (AHL) campaign not being scheduled to start until Feb. 5th this allows teams to keep top prospects on the taxi squad for the first few weeks of the NHL season.

Goaltenders

Emergency backup goaltenders will be required for each club, which means every team is required to carry three goalies during the season. In general, this means two on the active roster and at least one on the taxi squad. Either way, each team must have three goaltenders ready to play at all of the club’s road games.

Player Contracts

Player contracts won’t be adjusted or pro-rated for a 56-game season, but 10 per cent of their pay will be deferred this season while 20 per cent will be held in escrow to help cover the league’s lack of revenue. However, player’s performance bonuses will be pro-rated for a 56-game season. For instance, if a player was due to receive an $82,000 bonus for scoring 20 goals in an 82-game schedule, the target would now be 14 goals with the bonus being reduced to $56,000.

As for the 10-game rule regarding rookies, which saw their entry-level contract kick in after playing 10 NHL games in the season. This will now be adjusted to seven games played. In addition, all player contracts which were set to expire on June 30th, 2021, will now be extended to July 27th, 2021.

Covid-19 Protocols
All coaches will be required to wear masks behind the bench this season to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. Also, players are only permitted to travel from their hotel to the hockey rink with no trips to local restaurants, bars and stores being allowed. Each player will have their own hotel room and will have meals served there. All team practices will be closed to the public and must take place at an NHL-sanctioned venue.

In addition, teams have been asked to conduct virtual team meetings where possible and to practice safe physical distancing at all times. This also means team owners won’t be able to have direct contact with players, general managers and coaches, meaning no face-to-face meetings. Players have been asked to travel on their own to home games and practices and to not socialize with each other outside of the arena unless wearing a face mask and practising social distancing.

All players and staff will be tested daily for the first month of the new season and the process will then be reevaluated.

League Revenue

Since the NHL will be losing a lot of revenue in 2020-21, teams will be allowed to wear ads on player helmets this season. Fans won’t be allowed to attend games at the beginning of the season. However, it’s possible a limited number could attend games in home contests by the Dallas Stars, Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The league has also sold naming rights for each of its four divisions this season. Therefore, the NHL will consist of the Scotia NHL North Division, the Honda NHL West Division, the Discover NHL Central Division and the MassMutual NHL East Division.