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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.