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Welcome To The Starting Line Of The Offseason Sprint

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No sleep til August!

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Media Day Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The next two weeks in the NHL are absolutely jam-packed. By the end of it, some teams will look vastly different. Others will look about the same. Teams will have been working since the regular season ended to have their draft boards sorted, the needs of their roster made clear, identified free agency targets, and preparing for the Seattle Kraken to take one of their unprotected players.

Welcome to the starting line of the sprint.

It starts today with the first of the NHL’s two buy-out windows. With a flat salary cap for a few more years thanks to the lost revenues experienced by teams due to COVID-19, some teams might consider utilizing this tool to get out from under some undesirable contracts and give themselves some roster flexibility. The Dallas Stars don’t have a lot of those on their books, with a lot of their big-dollar veterans coming off the books after next season. So I don’t anticipate the Stars will be active during the buyout window.

But where they will be busy is the expansion draft, the NHL draft, and free agency.

EXPANSION DRAFT

Mark down Saturday, July 17th on the calendar. This is when the Stars will have to submit their protection list to the league for the expansion draft. We anticipate no real surprises as the Stars’ expansion list appears to be pretty set at this point.

The expansion draft excitement comes on Wednesday, July 21st when the Seattle Kraken take to ESPN2 to reveal their picks from each team around the league in the first step to building their team as the 32nd franchise in the NHL. Coverage will begin at 7 PM CDT and could come with some fireworks as teams make deals in the hopes of not having key players taken from their roster. Though, those trades can be made at any time in the lead-up to this day. Watch for fake accounts and reports, check verified status, and keep those notifications on, peeps.

NHL DRAFT

Two days later (Friday, July 23rd) features the first round of the NHL draft. Starting at 7 PM CDT, the draft will be broadcast on ESPN2 as the league’s new media-rights partner begins their coverage of hockey once again.

Rounds two through seven of the draft will be on Saturday, July 24th and broadcast on NHL Network starting at 10 AM CDT.

FREE AGENCY

As if that isn’t enough, the NHL shoe-horned the biggest day of the offseason into the same week-long period with free agency opening on Wednesday, July 28th.

NEXT SEASON

In his “State of the NHL” address prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Final, league commissioner Gary Bettman indicated that the league expects to have a full schedule of regular-season games with full buildings at the start of next season. Given the increased numbers of vaccinated residents and relaxing of local mask mandates and mass-gathering restrictions, it seems likely — at least in U.S. cities.

It appears that the expectation is for the season to start about a week later than normal - somewhere between October 10th and October 16th. I’ve seen October 12th as a reported first day, but nothing is really final until the league releases the full schedule for teams later in the summer. That start date would put the beginning of training camp at around September 22nd.

The participation of NHL players in the Olympics next winter is one of the likely hold-ups on finalizing the schedule, so keep an eye on that as we approach August.

The Minnesota Wild, which had their Winter Classic in 2021 postponed thanks to the global pandemic, will get their shot at hosting the league’s marquee event on January 1, 2022 at Target Field. The league will also host one Stadium Series game in the U.S. next season between the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes at Nissan Stadium in Tennessee. The Hurricanes were supposed to get an outdoor game in their market, but will get that in the near-future — just not next season.

The league’s other major events also have homes this season: the All-Star game will be hosted at T-Mobile Stadium in Las Vegas and Montreal will host next summer’s NHL draft.