The New England region won’t have a local football team to cheer for in January for the first time since 2008. The Boston Celtics will soon fill that void when they begin the NBA season in mere days, and now the Boston Bruins will come in handy to entertain the sports hungry masses.
On Sunday, the NHL owners joined the NHLPA and agreed to the conditions for a 56-game schedule for the upcoming 2021 season.
Some of those details, including the division formats, the opening of the 31 training camps, the beginning of the season — set for Jan. 13 — and the postseason format were revealed earlier. You can read a few of the notable developments in a piece published Saturday on Bruins Daily.
Here are a few other things to note from the agreement between the NHL and NHLPA.
What the schedule will look like
Even with the agreement ratified, the league didn’t reveal its full 2021 slate on Sunday. They’ll release the full schedule along with the health and safety protocols in the coming days according to the NHL’s Public Relations Twitter account.
We do know that each team will only play opponents within their division eight times — or nine or ten in the North Division comprised of the seven Canadian squads. From the Bruins standpoint, they’ll have four games at home and four on the road against the Sabres, Capitals, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Penguins and Flyers.
It won’t take long, however, for the Bruins to acquaint themselves with their new divisional foes.
“I don’t think it will take long to get those rivalries built up,” Bruins’ President Cam Neely said during a Zoom call with the media on Monday. “I mean obviously there’s history between Boston and the Rangers for years. When they play here, we play there, there’s a lot of fans of both teams. I think the recent history we’ve had with Philly in the playoffs, that will spark some rivalry.
“I mean playing these teams that many times guys will be sick of each other in a hurry.
The pandemic forced the NHL’s hand to limit travel for this unique season. Yes, it will feel strange here in Boston to go through a regular season without matchups against the likes of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. After all, safety trumps any sort of tradition during this unusual time in history. Maybe they’ll see one of those squads down the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Where will games be played
The seven squads north of the border still have their fate up in the air whether or not they’ll assume operations in their home country. They’ll get to call some place ‘home’, but they just don’t know where yet.
Regardless, the NHL plans on having every team conduct games at their home arenas. Some cities, like Dallas, may have fans if their state governments give the green light. The Bruins explored playing some games at outdoor venues — including Fenway Park — but opted to stay at TD Garden and won’t have fans to start the season as Neely told Boston Hockey Now.
Neely hopes to have fans inside Causeway Street in some capacity be it a socially distant crowd or a full house of 17,850. That situation is out of their hands right now.
Even with the different attendance policies, the league has a plan in place for neutral site games in case things go awry. That may come in handy early if we indeed have another spike in Coronavirus cases following the holiday season.
What will the rosters look like?
The 24 postseason teams carried expanded rosters — featuring a non-playing ‘taxi squad’ — into their respective bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto. That feature will carry over for the seven non-playoff teams as all 31 organizations can have anywhere between 4-6 members on their respective taxi squads.
As for opt-outs, anyone who chooses that route will retain their salary for the upcoming year. The opt-out deadline is set for Dec. 24 according to SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Neely said he doesn’t know of any Bruin planning to opt-out right now. Yet, with the outbreak and expanded rosters, he imagines some lineup shuffles to start the season.
Each team will only have a 10-14 day window to evaluate their rosters from the start of training camp until opening night. Despite that short time frame, coaching staffs and front offices will at least have some flexibility to insert players in their respective lineups during the season.
For their part, the Bruins may have some good news during Camp as Neely revealed that Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both rehabbing in Boston following their respective off-season surgeries. The former has skated on his own while the latter continues to rehab off the ice.
Other (Tentative) Key Dates
The 2021 season marks the last of the 31-team NHL before the Seattle Kraken joins the fold. According to Pierre LeBrun, the league’s 32nd team has its Expansion Draft scheduled for July 21. The NHL Draft will take place two days later on July 23-24 with free agency frenzy beginning the next week on July 28.
The trade deadline will take place on April 12, less than a month from the conclusion of the regular season (May 8).
The latest possible end date for the Stanley Cup Final is set for July 15. Thirty of the 31 teams — sans Vegas — will submit their Expansion Draft protection list a mere two days later on July 17 according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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