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The NHL close to a return, agree with NHLPA on a 2021 season



Nashville Florida Panthers Predators
The BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida — the home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers who hope to return for the 2021 season in January. // @GeorgeRichards

Usually by Christmas time, NHL teams are gearing up for a few days off during the grind of a season — not getting ready for a new one.

Yet here we are.

And here, it appears, we go.

According to NHL Insiders Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic/TSN and Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the NHL and the NHLPA have come to an agreement to finally kick off what will be a 2021 season in the coming weeks.

According to Friedman, the two sides have agreed to a 56-game schedule in 2021 which would start as early as mid-January.

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Frank Seravalli of TSN is reporting that the NHL wants to open some training camps (for the seven teams which did not make the expanded postseason) on Dec. 30 with the other teams reporting Jan. 3.

The 2021 season would start Jan. 13.

That seems pretty ambitious, however, with Seravalli noting “all dates subject to change. Scheduling not finalized.”

He later added: “Those dates could get pushed back.” confirms the report through NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. The deal is pending votes by both the NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA. That is expected no later than Monday.

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging — and the Canadian border basically closed for non-essential travel — what comes next will be interesting.

Remember that whole temporary divisional realignment talk with an All-Canadian division staying north of the U.S. border?

Well, now there are questions whether all the teams in Canada will be allowed to play in their home provinces due to local health concerns.

An All-Canada division may indeed remain — either by relocating those teams to the United States for a bit or start the season in a Canadian hub cities such as Edmonton where play would be allowed — since so much work has already gone into scheduling to try and get a season going as soon as a deal was reached.

We will see what happens.

As for the Florida Panthers, it appears they will remain, at least for 2021, in a revamped Central Division which initially was to include Atlantic rivals Tampa Bay and Detroit as well as Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Minnesota and Nashville.

Friday night, Mike Russo — former Florida beat writer for the Sun-Sentinel now with The Athletic — reported the Wild will be going further west to the Pacific and Dallas will join Florida in the Central.

All 56 of the games this season will be played within the new divisions.

The Panthers would play each of their new divisional rivals eight times this season with many series expected to come baseball-style.

For instance, the Panthers and Columbus could play each other three consecutive times when the Blue Jackets come to town (and vice versa) to cut down on travel.

Friedman reports that the top four teams from each division will make the playoffs — and, per Russo that means the Panthers are in with Tampa Bay and Dallas which are the reigning conference champs — with the winner of the two division rounds giving us a Final Four from each division.

All signs point toward the Panthers being able to play home games at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

It does not appear that U.S. teams will begin in hub cities as had been previously thought.

A good number of Florida players are already in town and have been holding informal practices in Coral Springs — with rigid COVID-19 protocols in place — for months.

With this current schedule, the Panthers would officially open training camp on Sunday, Jan. 3.

As we have gotten closer to a potential return to play, more and more players have made their way south.

There are a lot more details to come — including how many players will make up the roster as well as taxi squad players — so, stay tuned.

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