As the NHL and the NHLPA inch closer on an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, subsequently, a concrete return-to-plan plan, we’re starting to get an idea of what the league’s altered calendar will look like down the road.
In a normal world, Free Agent Frenzy would have been yesterday, but the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed everything back by a few months. As Bob McKenzie noted on Twitter this morning, it appears as though free agency season will begin on Nov. 1 because contracts that were set to expire on June 30 have been pushed back to Oct. 31.
This also gives us an idea of when the 2020-21 season could begin. If free agency isn’t starting until the beginning of November, the subsequent season surely wouldn’t be able to kick off until December at the earliest. If I had to venture a guess, I would think that the NHL starts the 2021 season with the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Target Field in Minnesota. Again, that’s just a guess.
As I noted last week, this isn’t going to be a great year to be a free agent. It looks like the NHL’s salary cap is going to remain stagnant for the next few seasons as the league compensates for the financial ramifications of the pandemic.
From an Oilers perspective, it was never likely that the team was going to be in on the big-ticket free agents like Taylor Hall or Alex Pietrangelo. But what could happen is that a team like Edmonton, who has a fairly solid salary cap outlook, could end up getting a quality mid-tier free agent that ultimately had their value driven down by the more conservative market. Many teams, like Toronto, Vegas, and San Jose, to name a few, will have a difficult time operating without the cap rising, so fewer teams will be actively engaged in the free agent market.
Another thing to consider is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto will be eligible for contract extensions come Nov. 1. So, rather than going fishing for a big name in free agency, it seems more likely that Ken Holland will use his cap room to deal with that housekeeping. Nugent-Hopkins is set to hit the unrestricted free agent market after the 2020-21 season while Yamamoto’s entry-level deal will also expire at the same time.