There’s nothing quite like some late-night news bombs to kickoff a weekend, like the NHL insiders announcing the league was all but agreed upon a return to play in a shortened season on Friday evening. Now that the weekend has passed, things became official and more details were released. We’ve had some time to digest and determine how the Dallas Stars might be operating this year.
As one of the teams to make the playoffs this summer, the Stars will be able to open training camps on January 3rd. (Those seven teams that didn’t get to participate in bubble life get to open on New Year’s Eve, which, honestly, makes sense since no one should be going out during a pandemic to celebrate this year ending and a new one beginning.) No preseason games to contend with, the Stars better be ready to roll when puck drops on the regular season January 13th.
They’ll open camp without top center Tyler Seguin (hip surgery) and tandem goaltending starter Ben Bishop (knee surgery). Both key players had major surgeries after fighting through some serious injuries during the Stars’ Stanley Cup run. Neither is likely to be ready to return until around April or so, based on initial time frames for recovery provided by general manager Jim Nill at season-end media availability.
Which is kind of interesting, considering the trade deadline in the shortened season is April 12th. Dallas may not have to make a move of any kind to get help at the deadline if both players are ready to slot into the lineup then. The regular season is slated to end May 8th. The playoffs will start May 11th and have a last possible date to award the Stanley Cup on July 15th.
With at least a half-glance always cast the Seattle Krakens’ way due to the expansion draft this summer, the offseason will come fast and furious for everyone once again this year. The expansion draft will be July 21st with teams able to start negotiating players to waive no-move clauses for purposes of exposing them for Seattle’s picking beginning in February. Protection lists will be due July 17th.
The NHL draft will be July 23-24, and free agency will be a few short days later on July 28th. The intention of the league is to go back to a more normalized schedule for the 2021-2020 season in October, but there’s a lot that could happen between now and then so keep your eyes and ears open.
For my money, the Stars have the most exciting divisional alignment in the four divisions proposed for this season. Maybe it’s from years and years of playing in the Pacific with all those 9:30 PM local time starts or just the prospect of having some new teams to watch for a divisional-only slate of games versus the usual suspects of the normal Central division. Either way, I think it’s going to be super exciting to watch Dallas play eight games against each of their new division mates.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators are normal foes, and Dallas gets to renew their old fun times with the Detroit Red Wings. Everyone else are usually out in the Eastern Conference and Dallas sees them just two times a year under usual circumstances, so it’ll be an adjustment to a bunch of new styles for the coming season. It’ll also be interesting to watch a replay of the Stanley Cup Final eight times in a season for the first time in NHL history.
It’s so 2020.
But there’s a big caveat to these division lineups right now. There are still some states and provinces that need to approve the league’s return. The San Jose Sharks will host their training camp in Arizona while they wait to see if the local governing body will let them play games in their home arena. If not, they’ll have to find a new arena to play games in, at least for the early portion of the season’s schedule.
In Canada, the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens are all awaiting clearance from provincial governments to allow NHL games. Should a majority of the Canadian division end up needing to relocate, the league could explore mini-bubble cities or relocating teams for the season to a different arena.
There’s still a lot of things that need to fall into place for the season to go off without a hitch.
ROSTERS AND TAXI SQUADS
Every NHL team will be allowed a four- to six-player taxi squad that will be part of the NHL team’s practices and safety protocols. It’s going to be a true test for a lot of team’s prospect pipelines to see how competitive the AHL squad will be without arguably their top talent for the season (assuming that gets worked out, which we should learn more about in the coming days now that the NHL domino has fallen.)
Early reports are that NHL teams will also be required to carry three goalies between the regular roster and the taxi squad. This will be particularly tricky for the Stars’ system with Ben Bishop hurt for much of the year. Anton Khudobin is expected to be the starter, with Jake Oettinger elevated to backup status. That likely means Landon Bow will be the third as part of the taxi squad, leaving only Colton Point in the Stars’ system for any AHL games played this year. The Texas Stars will need to sign a new goaltender for their season or seek something in a trade.
Because of the COVID implications of playing during a pandemic, the NHL is going to allow teams to activate a player with a salary cap of $1 million or less and exceed the salary cap if needed due to illness or injury. That should cover most teams’ entry-level players.
The NHL is allowing players to opt out of the coming season if they’re concerned about COVID-19 impacts on themselves or their families. Players have until December 27th to formally opt-out of the season. If they do, the player does not get paid for the coming year and teams can “toll” the contract, which is essentially playing out the contract as if this opt-out year never existed. In other words, the years and salary left on the contract will resume at the start of next season.
FURLOUGHS ENDING, FANS IN STANDS
Though most NHL teams won’t be able to have fans in attendance due to local ordinances, the Stars are operating in a state that is currently allowing up to 50 percent of capacity at indoor sporting events. With social distancing measures to ensure fans are six feet apart in the stands, the Stars could open the season with up to 5,000 fans in attendance for their home games. Health and safety protocols for fans to get into the arena are still being worked out.
Season ticket members will have first dibs on seats for the games. It’s likely to be based on tenure buying tickets, and then any unsold inventory will be made available for people to purchase on an individual game basis.
The return of the season also means many in the Stars’ front office are able to get back to work. Some have been furloughed for months, and many have likely found other opportunities while waiting on things in hockey to get back to some sense of normalcy.