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Key tentative dates for 2020-21 NHL season: Jan. 13 start, free agency (reports)


CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: A general view of an NHL logo on the back of a net during warms up prior to a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 22, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With key meetings scheduled for Sunday, and details to iron out, dates and other details for the 2020-21 NHL season remain tentative. Keeping those crucial caveats in mind, a variety of reporters shared potential important dates for the 2020-21 NHL season, including a potential Jan. 13 start.

In particular, Canadian guidelines could create additional hurdles. Of course, broadly speaking, COVID can change even the best-laid plans.

But let’s look at how the 2020-21 NHL season might play out, according to various reports.

Update: The NHL confirmed some, but not all, of those dates when the league made the 56-game 2020-21 season plan official.

Tentative dates for 2020-21 NHL season, from start to free agency

Here’s a list of dates for the 2020-21 NHL season, via Pierre LeBrun, Cap Friendly, and others:

  • Dec. 28, 2020: Waiver period begins.
  • Dec. 31: Training camps for the seven teams that did not participate in the Qualifying Round.
  • Jan. 3, 2021: Training camps begin for remaining 24 NHL teams.
  • Jan. 13: Tentative start date for 2020-21 NHL regular season. No exhibition games.
  • Feb. 1: Teams can ask players to waive no-movement clauses re: the 2021 Expansion Draft.
  • April 12: Expected date for the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, and others.
  • May 8: End of 2020-21 NHL season.
  • May 11: Beginning of 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
  • July 15: Likely last day the 2021 Stanley Cup can be awarded. LeBrun estimates that it may be awarded closer to July 10, at least if this timeline holds.
  • July 17: Deadline for NHL teams to submit expansion draft protection lists to the Seattle Kraken, TSN’s Frank Seravalli reports.
  • July 21: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken.
  • July 23-24: 2021 NHL Draft slated to take place.
  • July 28: 2021 NHL Free Agency, which might be a frenzy.

That’s ... a lot, right?

Quick thoughts about the tentative schedule of events

In particular, the stretch from the final days of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs through the start of 2021 NHL Free Agency look like a mad rush. In the span of a week, the Seattle Kraken will receive teams’ protection lists, conduct that expansion draft, and then participate in the 2021 NHL Draft. Then, one would assume, sleep all the way until free agency begins a few days later.

As you can see, non-playoff teams receive additional training camp time. Will a few days make a difference in shaking off rust for squads that have been out of action for about nine months? Will rust be generally equal considering the strange rhythms from the playoff bubble to the 2020-21 NHL season?

Those are just a number of questions that surface amid these reports. There’s not much time to catch one’s breath; as Adam Gretz noted in this post, players from non-playoff teams face a Dec. 24 deadline to opt out of the NHL season, while others must decide by the 27th.

With the NHL Board of Governors meeting scheduled for Sunday afternoon, and a conference call for GMs shortly after, more information could surface. And also, possibly, new roadblocks.

But, if all goes relatively smoothly, the 2020-21 NHL season could begin on Jan. 13, end around May 8, with the 2021 Stanley Cup handed out no later than July 15.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.