The year 2020 has been very different in many ways, including hockey. The 2020 hockey calendar is unlike any we have seen in the past so looking ahead, you may not know what to expect or when. Most hockey fans know to look forward to July 1 as the start of free agency. Obviously, the calendar is going to be a tad different this year.
With that in mind, here are the key offseason dates fans should be aware of. Before you read though, keep in mind that 2020 continues to throw curveballs at us so all of these dates are subject to change.
Oct. 9-10: NHL Draft
This is considered a tentative date because it has to take place after the playoffs have concluded. While the bubble has worked very well thus far with zero positive coronavirus tests since the teams arrived, there is always the possibility that games unexpectedly have to be pushed back. The Stanley Cup Final is scheduled to end in early October at the latest, but obviously that changes if there is a sudden outbreak in the bubble. The draft itself will be virtual so there is no real threat of it being pushed back otherwise.
The Capitals currently have five draft picks: a 1st, Arizona's 3rd, a 4th, 5th and 6th. With a flat salary cap, the draft will be very important this year as teams will be looking to make deals to shed salary. The trades could end up stealing the headlines from the draft.
Mid-October: Free agency beings
There is no set date for free agency yet, but it will be sometime in mid-October. The delay is because this is dependent on when the draft happens and that is dependent on when the Cup is awarded.
The Capitals players currently set to become unrestricted free agents are Brenden Dillon, Radko Gudas, Braden Holtby and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Aside from a coronavirus outbreak in the playoffs, these dates are pretty much set. Whatever questions there may be regarding next season, it probably will not affect the draft or free agency.
Nov. 17: Start of training camp
Dec. 1: Start of the 2020-21 NHL season
This is a pretty hopeful schedule. I don't see it happening. It is now September and it sure does not seem like we are any closer to having fans back in the stands than we were back in March when the league shut the regular season down. The rush to return stems from the hope that the team can maintain an 82-game season for 2020-21, but that seems doubtful as well.
There is no point for the NHL to rush back without any clarity on when fans may come back. It just does not make financial sense. While the NHL is going to carefully watch the NFL to see how that league handles its season and fans, the majority of those games will be played outdoors in bigger stadiums than hockey arenas. If you think we are going to have a better idea of when fans can start attending games again between now and Dec. 1, I wish I had your optimism. Best case scenario for me would be that the league delays only a few short weeks, begins the season after Christmas or perhaps even on New Year's and gradually begins returning fans over time with a coronavirus vaccine imminent. Worst-case scenario is that the pandemic continues to drag on and in December the league will have no choice, but to determine the best way to have a season without any fans.