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Not Quite Normal: Schedule, Protocols, Kraken Among The Differences For 2021-22 NHL Season

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at September 30, 2021

More than 18 months after the coronavirus shut down the sports world in March of 2020, the NHL is still feeling the effects of the virus.

Economically, the league is hoping to approach pre-pandemic revenue levels of about $5 billion in the 2021-22 season — thanks, in part, to its new U.S. TV deals with ESPN and Turner Sports and the growth of legal sports betting on both sides of the border.

Before the abbreviated 56-game 2020-21 season began last January, commissioner Gary Bettman told the media that “The magnitude of the loss (caused by the pandemic) starts with a ‘B.’ ”

As in: Billions.

“We’re out of the ‘M’ range and into the ‘B.’ ”

More live fans will also help the 2021-22 revenue stream. With preseason games now underway, just four of the league’s 32 arenas have capacity restrictions — Montreal, at 33% and Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa at 50%. All seven arenas in Canada were fan-free for the entire 2020-21 regular season. Toronto and Montreal welcomed a limited number of fans during the playoffs.

The arrival of the expansion Seattle Kraken should also boost the league’s bottom line.

When the Vegas Golden Knights joined the league in the fall of 2017, league-leading sales of their jerseys and other licensed merchandise helped drive the salary cap up from $74 million to $79.5 million in a single year. According to the NHL, the Kraken’s early sales are even stronger.

“Vegas set a pretty high bar,” the league’s chief brand officer, Brian Jennings, told ESPN. “The Kraken are blowing through it, hourly. It’s a hot market right now.”

After a one-year change in division structure to accommodate the pandemic-related border restrictions regarding travel between the U.S. and Canada, the NHL’s usual divisions return for 2021-22, along with regular cross-border travel. Like the Golden Knights, the Kraken will be joining the Pacific Division. To make room, the Arizona Coyotes are relocating to the Central.

Star Salaries Have Inflated

In normal times, player salaries come out of a pool of 50% of league revenues. After the losses incurred due to Covid-19, that hard salary cap was unlinked for the 2020-21 season. For the next several years, the cap is expected to stay flat at $81.5 million, or close to that number, while the players ‘pay back’ the league on the funds that have basically been advanced to them, and re-balance the books.

While salaries remained quite stagnant during the 2019-20 offseason, star players found more money available in the system this summer — in part because of the arrival of Seattle, and 23 more jobs up for grabs.

Contracts for defensemen like Seth Jones ($9.5 million cap hit), Zach Werenski ($9.583 million), Cale Makar ($9 million) and Miro Heiskanen ($8.45 million) set a new standard for young players at their position, while forward Kirill Kaprizov played hardball before getting a five-year deal with a cap hit of $9 million per season from the Minnesota Wild. Kaprizov, 24, led all rookies with 51 points and won the Calder Trophy to his name, but got his big payday after just 62 games of combined regular-season and playoff NHL experience.

Summer Hockey Returns

The Tampa Bay Lightning may forever hold the record as the team to capture the Stanley Cup latest in a calendar year. In the 2020 bubble in Edmonton, they eliminated the Dallas Stars to complete their quest on September 28. Last season, they took out the Montreal Canadiens on home ice at Amalie Arena on July 7.

The NHL released its list of critical dates for the upcoming season on Wednesday. The last possible day to award the 2022 Stanley Cup, according to the current schedule, is June 30.

By allowing teams full training camps and exhibition games this year, the regular season is starting about a week later than usual. The three-week break in February for the 2022 Winter Olympics also stretches out the calendar. The regular season is set to conclude on April 29, with the playoffs beginning May 2.

Other key dates fans should know:

  • March 21, 2022 – Trade Deadline
  • July 7-8, 2022 – NHL Draft in Montreal
  • July 13, 2022 – Free Agency begins

Strict Covid-19 Protocol For Unvaccinated Players

In early September, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association released the Covid-19 protocol for the 2021-22 season that the organizations had jointly developed.

With an eye toward encouraging full vaccination for as many players as possible, the protocol contains significant restrictions for unvaccinated players. Most importantly, while the NBA and MLB have obtained national interest exemptions from the Canadian government which allow their unvaccinated players to travel across the border without quarantining, the NHL has not done the same.

Furthermore, unvaccinated players who are deemed to be unable to perform the duties of their job will lose pay — 1/200th of their salary for each day they’re unavailable, whether that’s due to government restrictions or because the player has contracted Covid-19 or is deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive for the virus.

At the NHL’s player media tour in mid-September, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said he expects close to 99% of the league’s players will be fully vaccinated by the time the regular season begins on October 12.


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