The St. Louis Blues know more of the logistics that will allow the 2021 NHL season to happen. There is plenty that will cause fans confusion.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a St. Louis Blues fan and a hockey fan in general. So, just about all of us will be overjoyed at the fact that the Blues and the NHL will return in 2021.
It was already announced that the Blues, and the other 30 teams, will play a 56-game schedule. It was also already announced that the league was still aiming for January 13 to begin.
That date went from tentative to just short of concrete. As the league unveiled some important dates, it was reiterated that the season will start January 13 and the regular season will conclude by May 8.
There might still be wiggle room on those dates to a degree, but we are talking single-digit days, if anything. The reason for that is that the NHL intends to have the Stanley Cup awarded no later than July 15.
That’s a little earlier than July 23. That was the date the league would have had to end so that NBC could switch all focus to the Olympics, but the NHL is going by its own calendar.
The Hockey Guy discussed some other dates. The league intends to hold its entry draft on January 23 and 24, so that’s another reason to have the Cup awarded around 12 days before that.
Seattle’s expansion draft is scheduled to be held on July 21. Tying into that, teams have to ask players to waive their no movement clause by February 1 if that team intends to attempt exposing said player. The amount of games required for the expansion draft exposure have changed, but those are better explained in The Hockey Guy’s video
Once the Cup is awarded, the players drafted by Seattle and then all 32 teams make their entry picks, free agency begins. That starts by July 28.
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All of this might push the start of the 2021-22 season into mid-October or even slightly later. That’s a topic for another time.
All those dates are fairly straight forward. Things get confusing from then on.
Teams will have a taxi squad that travels with them and practices with the team. This squad will consist of four to six players.
Now, where it gets really confusing, and could be used as a way to circumvent the cap a little, is the fact these taxi players will not count against the cap. If they are on two-way contracts, they will earn their AHL salary while on the squad and if they are on one-way contracts, they get their NHL salary.
The taxi squad becomes even more confusing with regard to veteran players. You can only clear $1.075 million in cap space by placing a player on the taxi squad.
So, say the Blues sign another free agent prior to the season and then eventually sign Vince Dunn as well. If this mystery free agent put the Blues up to the cap and Dunn put them over, St. Louis could not put Marco Scandella on the taxi squad to clear cap space. Since Scandella earns $3.275, he would still cost the team $2.2 million in cap hit.
Causing more confusion, from the Blues standpoint, is the league’s mandate that there be one goaltender on the taxi squad. This goaltender, nor any player on the taxi squad, cannot play in the AHL while on the taxi squad.
So, would the Blues waste a year of Joel Hofer’s development simply because he has the most talent in the event of an injury or illness? Do they use Jon Gilles on the taxi squad, taking away some mentorship at the AHL level? Or, do the Blues really go out to left field and have Evan Fitzpatrick on the taxi squad, just to comply with rules?
Another date that might impact the Blues is February 1. Restricted free agents must be signed by that date for them to play this season. I highly doubt either party waits that long, but that is a date the Blues and Dunn will have circled just in case.
One final switch that might impact the Blues. The amount of free games you get on a player with an entry level contract has dropped to six. If that player plays seven NHL games, their contract kicks in and a year is burned.
For those that remember, Alex Pietrangelo only got brief looks of eight and nine games in his first two seasons. That was because the prior number had been 10 games to burn a year of an ELC.
So, if the Blues want to take a quick peek at Scott Perunovich, they can only suit him up and play him in six games before they have to make a decision whether a 56-game season is good enough to burn a year off his contract.
It’s going to be an interesting season, for sure. GM’s will be able to get around the salary cap with less expensive players, but they’ll also have decisions to make as to whether practicing with the NHL team is good enough vs. possibly playing in the AHL (assuming they get going, which is not official yet).
One final note on the return to play scenarios – players do not have final say about their contract if they choose to opt out of the 2021 season for health reasons. If they do not play, they do not get paid and their NHL team has the right to retain that year of service.
For example, Ivan Barbashev is scheduled to be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021. If he opts out of this season, the Blues can just say that they retain his rights and the final year of his contract would be in 2021-22 instead or whenever he felt it was safe to return. Of course, teams have the right to waive that as well and let the contract year tick off as well.
It’s a very complicated matter and this is all going to cause mass confusion once the season begins. The league can spell everything out for us and there will still be some confused as to who counts against the cap or who can play where or how all the player maneuvering goes on.
There are more hurdles to cross, but thankfully the Blues don’t have to worry about that. For example, do AHL players playing in the U.S. have to quarantine if called up to their NHL team that plays in Canada? Who knows.
The only for sures right now is that the Blues will drop the puck in mid-January. Sadly, it was confirmed they will be in this awful West Division. Such is the life of a Blues fan.