Everything you need to know about the changes for the 2021 NHL season

With the flurry of news coming out about the details of the coming NHL season, its been hard to keep track of some of the finer points. Aside from the exciting prospect of a chaos-filled all-Canadian division, there will be a lot of other changes. Here is a quick breakdown of the changes for next season, which is scheduled to kick off on January 13th.

Important dates and numbers

Aside from the start date, there are a few other key dates to keep in mind. Players have a choice to opt-out of the season, provided they do so by December 24th if they were not in the last playoffs, or December 27th if they were. So far, no one has opted out.

Training camp will begin shortly after the opt-out phase, on December 31st for non-playoff teams, and January 3rd for playoff teams. Teams can carry 36 skaters and as many goalies as they want.

As far as contracts go, there are a few interesting changes. Restricted free agents must be signed by February 11th, rather than the usual December 1. Players with no-movement clauses that would have protected them from the expansion draft will have those clauses extended to ensure they are not automatically exposed.

Another important number: the threshold for burning a year off of entry-level contracts is down to seven games, from the previous ten. Finally, perhaps the most important new number of all: 56. Every team will play 56 intra-divisional games. That means 56 all Canadian matchups! The Flames will play 10 games against the Oilers, 10 against another divisional opponent, and nine against the rest. Buckle up.

Division re-alignment

Most importantly, the new divisions. The Canadian teams are not the only ones affected by the re-alignment, as other teams have had to shift as well.

North DivisionEast DivisionCentral DivisionWest Division
Calgary FlamesBoston BruinsCarolina Hurricanes Anaheim Ducks
Edmonton OilersBuffalo SabresChicago BlackhawksArizona Coyotes
Montreal CanadiensNew Jersey DevilsColumbus Blue JacketsColorado Avalanche
Ottawa SenatorsNew York IslandersDallas StarsLos Angeles Kings
Toronto Maple LeafsNew York RangersDetroit Red WingsMinnesota Wild
Vancouver CanucksPhiladelphia FlyersFlorida PanthersSan Jose Sharks
Winnipeg JetsPittsburgh PenguinsNashville PredatorsSt. Louis Blues
Washington CapitalsTampa Bay LightningVegas Golden Knights

Although the North division promises to be action-packed, it is not without its issues. The teams in Canada will have significantly more travel time than the other divisions, and will not be able to call up players from their AHL affiliates without waiting for a 14 day quarantine period to elapse before the player can join the team. Even that relies on the AHL season starting, which is not a sure thing. The NHL has added some additional roster flexibility to address this.

The taxi squad

Without the usual availability of the AHL pipeline (the AHL has pushed its start date back until at least February), teams will be using a taxi squad to supplement their roster. To avoid this problem, the teams will be allowed to carry four to six extra players on top of their 23 man roster.

Notably, at least one of these players must be a third goalie if they are carrying the standard two goalies on their regular roster. A more detailed breakdown of the taxi squad rules is nicely summarized by Capfriendly here:

With training camp just around the corner, it will be interesting to see players battle it out for positions on both the regular roster and the taxi squad. its time to start getting excited for next season!


Cover photo courtesy: Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

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