In the 100+ year history of the NHL, we’ve never seen a schedule quite like this one. It’s a shortened season with baseball-style series and just seven different opponents over the 56 games. Nonetheless, it’s not lacking intrigue throughout. These are the five games I’m most looking forward to this season.
5. Vegas Golden Knights at Anaheim Ducks – February 27th
This game marks the first road back-to-back in the same city against the same team, one of four instances on the Golden Knights’ schedule. Much of the hoopla around this unique schedule is the belief that teams will hate each other a little bit more playing so often and on consecutive nights. I’m not sure I believe it, but if it is true, this one will be ripe with that extra fire. The real reason this game has me interested is because of the goalie situation. Will Vegas rotate goalies on every back-to-back? What if one guy dominates the first game? What if Fleury is gone by then? Goalie decisions have dominated the Pete DeBoer era in Vegas and that will continue in a big way with each back-to-back decision. This one will set the table for each of the other seven.
4. Vegas Golden Knights at St. Louis Blues – March 12th
Hopefully, by March, there are not just fans in the building, but a lot of fans in the building in St. Louis. This game marks Alex Pietrangelo’s first game back in STL against the team that drafted him, he captained, and he won a Stanley Cup with. It’ll give us the old expansion year feels where the other team celebrates a Golden Knight and then he stomps all over them and helps Vegas get a win.
The 56-game 2020-21 season schedule has been released with the Golden Knights starting at home against the Anaheim Ducks on January 13th. The schedule is unique this season with consecutive games against the same team throughout. Vegas will have 8 back-to-backs.
JANUARY: Thurs. Jan. 14 vs. Anaheim Sat. Jan. 16 vs. Anaheim Mon. Jan. 18 vs. Arizona Wed. Jan. 20 vs. Arizona Fri. Jan. 22 at Arizona Sun. Jan. 24 at Arizona Tues. Jan. 26 vs. St. Louis Thurs. Jan. 28 vs. St. Louis
FEBRUARY: Mon. Feb. 1 at San Jose Wed. Feb. 3 at San Jose Fri. Feb. 5 vs. Los Angeles Sun. Feb. 7 vs. Los Angeles Tue. Feb. 9 vs. Anaheim Thurs. Feb. 11 vs. Anaheim Sun. Feb. 14 vs. Colorado Tues. Feb. 16 vs. Colorado Sat. Feb. 20 at Colorado Mon. Feb. 22 at Colorado Fri. Feb. 26 at Anaheim Sat. Feb. 27 at Anaheim
MARCH: Mon. March 1 vs. Minnesota Wed. March 3 vs. Minnesota Fri. March 5 at San Jose Sat. March 6 at San Jose Mon. March 8 at Minnesota Wed. March 10 at Minnesota Fri. March 12 at St. Louis Sat. March 13 at St. Louis Mon. March 15 vs. San Jose Wed. March 17 vs. San Jose Fri. March 19 at Los Angeles Sun. March 21 at Los Angeles Thurs. March 25 at Colorado Sat. March 27 at Colorado Mon. March 29 vs. Los Angeles Wed. March 31 vs. Los Angeles
APRIL: Thurs. April 1 vs. Minnesota Sat. April 3 vs. Minnesota Mon. April 5 at St. Louis Wed. April 7 at St. Louis Fri. April 9 vs. Arizona Sun. April 11 vs. Arizona Mon. April 12 at Los Angeles Wed. April 14 at Los Angeles Fri. April 16 at Anaheim Sun. April 18 at Anaheim Mon. April 19 vs. San Jose Wed. April 21 vs. San Jose Mon. April 26 vs. Colorado Wed. April 28 vs. Colorado Fri. April 30 at Arizona
MAY: Sat. May 1 at Arizona Mon. May 3 at Minnesota Wed. May 5 at Minnesota Fri. May 7 vs. St. Louis Sat. May 8 vs. St. Louis
The Golden Knights have a salary cap problem and now that we have a set date for the 2020-21 season to begin there’s an official deadline in which that problem must be solved.
Luckily for Vegas, the new COVID-necessitated roster rules should stand to assist the Golden Knights in navigating the muddy salary cap waters this season.
As it currently stands, according to CapFriendly.com, the Golden Knights projected starting lineup (with backup goalie) comes in over the cap by a little more than $100,000. By rule, all teams must be cap compliant by the day of the first game on the league schedule, this year being January 13th. Thus, something has to give.
Normally, Vegas would be in a bit more trouble than they currently are because solving the cap issue would mean sending a player or players away from the team completely and down to the AHL. Plus, they’d be left without any healthy scratch players, which is never ideal. However, with the invention of the taxi squad, the Golden Knights will be able to have players practice with the NHL team, but not count against the cap.
Due to fear of positive tests forcing players out of games at the last minute, the NHL is allowing each team a taxi squad of four to six players. These players will practice and travel with the team but will only be eligible to play in games in the case of an emergency. Technically, the taxi squad players are not part of a team’s active roster, and instead will be treated financially like they are in the AHL. (They are slated to receive NHL per diem.)
Thus, at any time, Vegas is allowed to keep six players, which must include a third goalie, around the NHL team without them counting against the cap. In the past, the Golden Knights have had to yo-yo players back and forth to properly manage the cap. We’ve seen it with guys like Nic Roy, Brandon Pirri, and Jason Garrison, and the first season Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Vadim Shipachyov were sent down before Opening Night to satisfy the cap, but this year they can do it on paper and keep the players around to practice and even travel with the team to road games.
So, let’s talk about exactly how it works, what the Golden Knights can and can’t do, and then lay out a few options they might take to clear the final $100,000 in cap space prior to their first game on January 13th.
The NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement last night to go forward with a regular season set to begin on January 13th. The agreement still needs to be formalized but it appears hockey is officially back and a 56 game regular season followed by a full playoff will take place. Here’s everything we know to this point as it relates to the Golden Knights.
56 game regular season schedule will be played completely inside of division. (Source: NHL.com)
The regular season is scheduled to end on May 8th with the Stanley Cup being awarded in early July. (Source: TSN.ca)
Golden Knights to be in a division with Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, and St. Louis (Source: @PierreVLeBrun)
Four teams will make the playoffs from each division (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
The four playoff teams in each division will then play each other to determine one division champion to participate in conference semi-final. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
Conference final matchups will be determined by regular season points. (Source: @TheFourthPeriod)
Players will receive their full salaries this season, no proration. (Source: FriedgeHNIC)
Any players can opt-out of the season, without pay, if player or immediate family member is considered high-risk. Their contract would then be paused until they resume play. (Source: @frank_seravalli)
Official training camp for the Golden Knights is scheduled to begin on January 3rd (Source: @PierreVLeBrun)
The day after Thanksgiving is usually reserved for sleeping in, leftovers, unnecessary spending, and the annual NHL Thanksgiving Showdown. This year unfortunately, basketball and football will have to fill your lazy-day sports void. But don’t get down, your gut will bounce back into shape next week and there’s a hint of positivity from the hockey world.
In Garioch’s latest article, the Ottawa scribe wrote about the silence around the league, especially after last week’s COVID breakout surrounding the Golden Knights and other organizations. Normally, things would be heating up. Early season deals are made, coaches are fired, and fanbases are fully engaged. It’s time to forget what could’ve/should’ve been and deal with reality.
It’s got to make sense… If we’re able to play it’s going to be more about player supply and player development this year than anything else. Without fans in the buildings, it’s certainly not going to be about any meaningful revenue. So yes, we’re going to want to know what the NHL is doing before we finalize what our plan is going to be. -Scott Howson, AHL CEO & President
Everyone around the sport understands the NHL needs to act first before minor leagues can make their decision. A lost season would impact a lot of people, including the players. They lose out on salary, statistics, milestones, but most importantly, a year from their careers. Older guys won’t get that season back. A layoff of a year or more allows extra time for prospects to develop, mature, and steal jobs. In other words, they do not want to skip a season.
It’s understandable why the owners are hesitant to start a season without a packed house of screaming fans. They’re losing money by the day, but owners also understand that a cancelled season could damage them more.
According to several sources, a few owners have suggested to Bettman that the league might be better off financially if it shuts down next season, since playing in empty arenas could be crippling to the bottom line. The NHL is still very much a gate-driven league in comparison to a league like the NFL, which draws most of its revenue from media rights. Bettman responded that the NHL can’t lose a season because it’s too damaging in the long term, as the league has learned before in lockout seasons. –Report by Emily Kaplan & Greg Wyshynski, ESPN
Each side will need to come to an agreement, take their financial lumps, and create some type of a shortened regular season. If it’s a February target, the league will need to decide how the 2020-21 season will play out relatively soon.
The landscape is — there’s a lot of unknowns associated with where we’re going in the immediate future…Hopefully things, with all the positive news associated with vaccines and a hopeful climate that could potentially exist that we get back on track. But we have some ground to cover. -Don Sweeney, Bruins GM to Associated Press
Everything we hear or read from around the league tends to be positive, giving fans reasons to believe that their favorite players will suit up and eventually play a 2020-21 season.
What starts with me is: Let’s get the season started… I’m up for however it looks. Whatever the league and the PA think is the best way to get us back playing, whether it’s with fans, some fans, no fans, TV being (more) relevant, if you will. Whatever it takes to get this season going and get it in place. -David Poile, Predators GM to Associated Press
Normally, when a season doesn’t begin on time it’s due to some bitter work stoppage. Players, GMs, and owners are on opposite sides with little motivation to give in, but this is a unique situation. The comments from various league general managers give a sense that collectively the NHL is placing its product and their fans first.
The league and the players discussed this week and there is something on the table that if we can start on time this is what it’s going to be. It’s going to be a 60 game season, in your own arenas, MLB style schedule like back-to-backs in your own building, and an all-Canadian division. –Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet
It may not seem like it but there is real anticipation around the league. Certain GMs are being vocal now, spreading the word to fans and to the players. Since the players union and league office are ghosting each other a bit, it’s good that Poile, Sweeney, and others are giving us hope with their optimism. I think they speak for most NHL managers out there, and they help represent one side of the coin. Hopefully, things can quickly develop from there.
As fans, positive thinking is all we can do at this point, and pound down another turkey sandwich.
At this point, we’ll take hockey back no matter how we can get it, but the latest pair of plans floating around might not be ideal for the Golden Knights competitively.
The Golden Knights are among the best teams in the NHL on paper and are expected to win the Pacific Division and compete for the President’s Trophy. At the very least, Vegas will be penciled in as a playoff team by anyone making prognostications.
That won’t change regardless of whichever plan the NHL lands on to bring the season back, but the current ones seem to lean towards helping middle of the road teams as opposed to elite ones.
That’s the more extreme of the options. The other idea is to have teams travel to each market, but play multiple games while there. In other words, each team would only take one trip to each location and essentially play a series to reduce travel.
So, why is this disadvantageous for the Golden Knights?
Like Toronto and Edmonton, the NHL would probably “own and operate” the hotels and there will be some level of testing, but they’re not going to fence off the arena, hotels and restaurants. The league will do its best to control the environment, but players and staff should have more freedom (like going to dinner). -Michael Russo, The Athletic
Now, before you throw your hands up and scream bubble related profanities, know that these bubbles would likely include stadiums open to fans to watch.
The World Series, currently being played in Arlington, Texas, is the perfect example. Major League Baseball set up bubbles for the playoffs and now that we’ve reached the finale, they’ve actually invited fans in to watch the biggest games of the year.
The NHL could very well do the same and in fact, if they do it properly, teams could travel between bubbles a few times over the course of the year to allow more widespread competition.
Of course, Las Vegas is atop the list of potential regional bubble cities and will only become a stronger option with Lifeguard Arena opening and The Orleans laying ice for the AHL.
If it happens, it could mean up to eight teams in Vegas with multiple games daily at T-Mobile Arena, all of which are open to a limited number of fans. Sure, it’ll still be tough to be one of the 6,000 people that get to see the Golden Knights, but for any hockey fan, tickets would probably be easily available for all of the other games.
A hockey buffet for months on end on the Strip? Sign me up.
While GM’s across the league convened via Zoom, NHL owners continued to stew about lost revenue. Any time money is the main topic, fans should be worried.
They don’t have any idea at this point what the specifics are, other than they’re still hopeful for early January. There are some who are starting to think that’s a stretch for the start of the 2020-21 season. That will be the target Commissioner Bettman continues to be focused on. -Darren Dreger, TSN Vancouver
Speculation from numerous hockey reporters has suggested the NHL is working on either a 60-game or 48-game season. However, it’s a work in progress as the league and owners aren’t necessarily on the same page.
Commissioner Gary Bettman would love to see a 60-game series to maximize revenue and provide as much content to the league’s television partners. The owners on the other hand are extremely worried about generating income, especially if they can’t sell tickets to attending fans.
The owners are worried about the economics. Before the NHL drops puck on 2020-21, I’m pretty sure Commissioner Bettman is going to present ownership with two or three scenarios. Specific again to the dollars. ‘Here’s how much we’re going to lose if we don’t play, at all. Here’s how much we’re going to lose if we play without fans. Here’s how much we’re going to lose if we wait until we can plug a percentage of fans in the building.’.. What we know is, we’re going to have to deal with it in every sense for the foreseeable future.-Dreger, TSN Vancouver
With the operating costs of arenas and practice facilities on top of player salaries, it’s a serious concern for most NHL owners. If they can’t make a buck without fans in their buildings, owners prefer a shorter season to cut back on wasted expenses.
I keep hearing from ownership side that they’re a little more adamant about February 1st. There appears to be two sides of start dates, Jan. 1 and Feb. 1. Maybe by March 15th, we can put six thousand people in your building. The owners will be saying I’d rather have to wait six weeks for that rather than ten weeks. Why don’t we just push back a month. There are enough teams that are thinking that they would like to push back a month.-John Shannon, TSN Vancouver
Beyond agreeing on start date for the 2020-21 season, the league will be under pressure to wrap up and award the Stanley Cup by early to mid-July. In the United States, NBC has exclusive rights to the NHL and the Olympics. The latter is a real money-maker for the network. The NHL has essentially been told that when the Tokyo Olympics begin the league won’t have a network to air their games.
I don’t think that border is going to be open on January 1st. I think they are going to play a Canadian division. -The Creator
Major League Baseball faced this problem as the Toronto Blue Jays were not granted access to fly back and forth across the border to play games. Instead, they had to play all of their games in Buffalo.
So, if that were to be the case, where does that leave Vegas with three teams suddenly out of the division. Here’s the most logical option the league could be left with.
Canadian Division Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
West Division Arizona, Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas
Central Division Chicago, Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Tampa Bay
East Division Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
This is certainly not perfect for Vegas, but it’s not terrible. They still remain in a division with the three California teams and they no longer would have to take the tough trip up to Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary). But, adding Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis is definitely tricky.
The league certainly could shuffle a few things around including possibly seeing Chicago or Nashville instead of St. Louis in Vegas’ division.
Winning a division with Colorado in it will be much tougher for Vegas than without. Nonetheless, no matter how it shakes out the Golden Knights should be in a prime position to once again reach the postseason.
"It definitely wasn't an easy road, it's definitely a gauntlet to get to this point. But when you get to this point the teams that win find another level, they don't sag. We didn't find that level." -DeBoer