Around the NHL: League won’t be opening training camps until Mid-July at earliest

We continue to roll out new weekly features here on TLN, and this morning we start our look at league wide news that may or may not have a direct impact on the Leafs. 

Monday the NHL and PA through Pierre LeBrun clarified a somewhat confusing aspect of the next Phase of the league relaunch. Unfortunately that clarification really just creates more questions than answers…

So, the clarification part is that it attaches somewhat of a date to when we’ll see something formal in regards to players getting back on the ice as a team. There had been pipe dream discussion of early July, but apparently that ship has sailed. That ship probably sailed a week ago when the NHL couldn’t readily identify hub cities nor articulate whether these training camps would all be happening in the hub city or elsewhere. This is the first in the string of unanswered questions that sprout for this simple tweet.

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So assuming teams report in mid July, the next piece that needs to be determined is how long training camps will last. Considering that a team that misses the playoffs normally gets a five month hiatus from hockey, ending in mid April and starting up again in mid September, and having a three week training camp, this potential four month hiatus seems to warrant a couple of weeks of camp, or at least something in the ten day range, especially when you factor in the varying levels of access to training over this break.

A couple of weeks back, I mapped out what a timeline for the conclusion of the 2019-20 Playoffs would look like, for the most part the timeline holds up but everything will need to be pushed back two weeks. The bigger question starts becoming what does the 2021 season look like?

At best this means hockey starts again in August and could wrap up in the first half of October, assuming everything goes well. All of this seems to point to a 2021 season starting up in January, meaning seven teams will be going about nine months without playing hockey. (And you thought Jack Eichel is pissed now.)

If hockey ends by mid October, you can bet that the NHL draft won’t be too far behind the presentation of the Stanley Cup. It will be made even more bizarre by the fact that we’ll potentially have players playing in the CHL, NCAA, and/or Europe by the time the draft takes place. This will make for interesting circumstances if teams want to invite these players to camps or potentially add them to their rosters for the 2021 season. The CHL might be straight forward on that, but can the same be said about the KHL? Will there be an advantage to drafting a player that you just watched play the night before?

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Free Agency will be an absolute mess as well. Presumably the NHL will still want to give teams a couple of weeks after the Cup is awarded before dealing with full blown free agency. A free agency that will be dealing with a flat salary cap and a number of teams already hard pressed to build their rosters. If that’s not enough, arbitration will be a zoo, and will have to happen much earlier in the process than the usual month into free agency, as you’d hope by mid-December players are reporting to training camp again.

At the end of all this the NHL is still going to put in work to cram as many games as possible into a 2021 season. While the 48 game schedule of the lockout shortened season seems like the best course of action, reality is the NHL will push for more, and while the absolutely insane idea of putting in 82 games and playing into the summer in 2021 is out there, perhaps there’s some middle ground, and when the NHL realizes they also need to find time to host an expansion draft and launch a new franchise next summer maybe we’ll see hockey wrap in July 2021 next year rather than pushing on to September or beyond.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of this involves absolutely everything going as smoothly as possible. No second wave of self isolation. No teams testing positive. No disagreement from a players association which will see it’s members working constantly or not at all, and potentially for less money when you consider the escrow and cap situation.

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While the NHL is hellbent on concluding this season, it looks increasingly difficult with each passing day. If they do manage to pull it off, those few months without hockey will be redeemed with nearly continuous hockey and intense offseasons. So I guess enjoy the break and visiting with your family while you can.