For a while, there has been an expectation that an agreement was getting close on the 2020-21 season. A deal is now in place, subject to ratification by the owners and NHLPA that would set up a 56-game campaign.
Some of the highlights are as follows:
– Training camps would open for the Habs (and all other playoff teams) on January 3rd. Teams that weren’t part of the bubble would see their camps start on December 30th.
– No exhibition games will be played.
– There will be no expansion to roster sizes but teams will be permitted to carry a 4-6 player taxi squad. As a result, the risks of carrying a smaller roster will be mitigated somewhat so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Canadiens (and a lot of other teams) go as close to the minimum as they can.
– Players will be allowed to opt out of the season if they so desire, similar to the bubble when Karl Alzner was among those to do so. Teams will apparently be able to toll the contract, effectively extending it a year at the current terms.
– There is a provision for an all-Canadian division as expected, subject to the NHL reaching an agreement with the respective provincial health units for each team. Talks evidently aren’t going the greatest in that regard based on reports from earlier in the week. If that can’t be done, the options are to play in hubs (Edmonton and Toronto would be the contenders to host) or to relocate all Canadian teams to the United States for the season. In that situation, the divisions would probably need to be realigned again.
– Playoffs will be strictly by division for the first two rounds. As a result, instead of there being two Wild Card spots per conference, the top four teams in each division will make the postseason with the 1 seed playing 4, and 2 versus 3 in the opening round.
Now with a firm return plan in place, any final plans can start to be put into action as things should start picking up around the league.
Most of Montreal’s offseason work was done back in October when Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli, and Josh Anderson all joined the team while Jake Allen was acquired earlier in the summer. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see GM Marc Bergevin go after another veteran forward at or near the league minimum to give them a bit of extra depth; a PTO or two is another option. At the very least, there appears to be a return on the horizon and it’s less than a month away.