The Dallas Stars are hitting the ice for the formal opening of Phase 3 in the NHL’s Return to Play plan — training camp, Stanley Cup Playoff edition. Here’s everything you need to know leading up to today’s sessions, including how we got here, who will be in camp, how teams will travel to bubble cities, and the schedule of games known for the initial round of the NHL’s re-imagined playoffs.
NHL and NHLPA Ratify Return To Play & CBA Extension
Late Friday afternoon, the NHL and the NHLPA ratified the Return to Play plan for phases three (training camp) and four (playoff games) as well as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Return to Play plan outlines all safety protocols, testing regulations, operating terms, and other such items as the teams return to home training facilities for training camp and then travel to the bubble cities.
Lost amongst all of the playoff returning information, however, is the fact that the league managed to extend the CBA as part of this process. The CBA was set to expire after the 2021-2022 season. By extending it to the 2025-2026 season, the league avoids the possibility of a lockout just two seasons removed from the economic devastation of the current global pandemic. Additionally, the league and the players agreed on NHL players participating in the next Winter Olympics, something all parties involved will benefit from.
Key Dates To Know
The league also set a number of critical dates for the remainder of the season as well as the offseason. Since the global pandemic caused a number of things to get pushed back from their normal times, key playoffs and offseason dates will now be:
July 13: start of training camps
July 26: teams travel to NHL bubble cities (Edmonton in the West, Toronto in the East)
July 28-30: exhibition games as warmups to the playoff resumption
August 1: start of seeding and qualifying round
August 10: last day of seeding/qualifying round, NHL draft lottery part 2 (where we find out what team that lost in the qualifying round will win the first overall pick in the draft this season)
August 11: first round of playoffs begin
August 25: second round of playoffs begin
September 8: conference finals begin
September 22: Stanley Cup Final begins
October 4: last possible day of playoffs
October 9-10: 2020 draft
December 1: tentative start date of the 2020-2021 season
NHL players have until 5 PM EDT today to notify their team of their intention to opt out of the NHL’s Return to Play without penalty. Though Dallas Stars defenseman made that indication clear to the team’s management after news of his signing a contract in his home country (Czech Republic) for next season, it is still required to be delivered officially to the team in writing. His name not showing on the training camp roster for the Stars is a good indication that they did indeed get that sentiment officially in writing.
A number of other NHL players around the league that opted out over the weekend include:
D Karl Alzner (Montreal Canadiens)
D Mike Green (Edmonton Oilers)
D Travis Hamonic (Calgary Flames)
D Steven Kampfer (Boston Bruins)
D Zach Trotman (Pittsburgh Penguins)
LW Sven Baertschi (Vancouver Canucks)
It’s likely we’ll hear about a few more before day’s end, though the Stars reportedly don’t expect any other players to exercise their right to opt-out at this time.
Training Camp Roster
The training camp roster the Stars sent out on Sunday did not include many surprises, with most of the suspected young stars there to compete for roster spots for the team’s so-called “taxi squad” in the bubble city. Here’s who is expected to be on the ice later today:
All sessions during this training camp will be closed to the public. Not wholly unexpected, given the protocols for safety that those around the team are prescribing to in order to keep the team as isolated from outside contact as possible. The media allowed to attend in-person will also be limited and subject to a number of protocols to ensure player and staff safety.
Seeding Round Game Schedule
The Stars will play in the round-robin seeding round against the other top four seeded teams in the West as the play-in round for the bottom portion of the standings determines who will qualify for postseason action. We’re still waiting to hear when the Stars will play their exhibition game at the end of July (which is expected to be broadcast to the public) or who they will play (expected to be some team other than the three they will faceoff against in the seeding round), but we know which dates you should circle on the calendar for the games that will count:
Timing of these games is still to be determined, and expected to be announced later this week. However, the NHL has sketched out games that will start at 11 AM CST (Eastern Conference), 1 PM CDT (Western Conference), 3 PM CDT (Eastern Conference), 5 PM CDT (Western Conference), 7 PM CDT (Eastern Conference), and 9 PM CDT (Western Conference).
That means there is the potential for wall-to-wall hockey for the first 10 days of August while the seeding and play-in rounds conclude.
full schedule for first 10 days of RTP plan pic.twitter.com/bH5BONH5Co— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) July 10, 2020
What’s On The Line
Without fans in the stands and playing in a bubble city, what is actually at stake for the Stars in the seeding round? The biggest thing on the line is the opportunity to draw the lowest-seeded team as an opponent in the first round of the playoffs. That would be a good way to ease into the playoffs and take advantage of this re-imagined playoff scenario. Under normal circumstances, Dallas would have likely drawn the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. Now, they could draw someone they matchup better against to advance into the second round.
“Home ice” isn’t going to be as pronounced without fans in the stands for those critical series-defining games, but there are still subtle nuances where home ice could come in handy. Namely, faceoff positioning in certain situations and choosing whether to go first in the shootout should the seeding games not end in overtime.