It’s the moment we have all been waiting for. Patiently standing by for any tweet from the several media members we have notifications turned on for. All of that endurance has paid off and the NHL and NHLPA have come to a tentative agreement for the season to start on Jan. 13.
It will be a 56-game regular season, after which the top four from each newly-formed division will make the playoffs, producing the four final teams for the Stanley Cup semi-finals.
It’s not finalized by any means, as the league is having ongoing discussions, that are resuming on Saturday, with the Canadian provincial governments to determine if they can operate within the five provinces where NHL teams exist. The NHL’s board of governors will also be holding a call in the near future regarding the agreement and both the league and players’ union still must vote to make the it official.
With all that in mind, we can still safely say that we are closer than every before, but a very wide margin. Even some key issues have been ironed out within the tentative agreement.
The most significant previously unknown aspect was the taxi squad. We never heard definitive numbers but now we know that there will be at least four players given that role. Not all of the minutiae have been figured out, but these players will be paid the AHL equivalent of their salaries, travel with the team, practice with the full roster. In terms of the cap structure for the team, the regular 23-man roster will operate under the $81.5-million salary cap, while the taxi squad will count as players being called-up/sent down. For the Minnesota Wild, this means that a player such as Victor Rask — who carries a $4-million cap — can be in the taxi squad, but the $1.075-million will be “buried” and will come off of his contract. A player will still need to clear waivers to be sent to the taxi squad.
In addition to the taxi squad, each team will have the option to carry over the contract of a player that opts out to the next season. So realistically, if a player with a bad contract options out of the season, the team won’t take that option and it’s basically some free cap space. If it’s a highly-regarded player, then sure, the team will add another year before the player hits free agency.
The Jan. 13 start date is still the hope under the current plan, which will mean training camps open up on Dec. 31 for non-playoff teams, and Jan. 3 for playoff teams.
After the back and forth of the Wild moving from either the re-structured Central division or the Pacific, it appears that Minnesota will be in the latter.
It’s hard to not look at the Wild’s new division and predict that this team can be in contention for the four playoff positions. Beating up on some rebuilding teams like the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, while also being fairly equal to the Arizona Coyotes. Just on paper — because weird seasons always happen — the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues will most likely be the top of the pack after 56 games. Makes you think.
The NHL is back baby.
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