The National Hockey League – in partnership with the NHL Players’ Association – has provided a full update on the coming 2020-21 season, listing a number of critical dates, while also providing an update to the official rule book in terms of rule 83.1 (offside).
On Tuesday evening, the league announced the full breakdown of strategy surrounding the health and safety measures put in place in order to see a successful campaign. Included in the information was that of travel protocols, testing protocols, transition rules and an amendment to the offside rule.
Interestingly, within the new Positive Test Protocol, should an individual test positive with symptoms, the protocol is different than that of an individual testing positive without symptoms, or a positive asymptomatic individual.
The NHL and the Players’ Association were a part of a conference call which included Canadian federal and provincial government representatives, various health officials, as well as the management of the seven Canadian teams.
A full breakdown of the expected and demonstrated safety of the players, staff, in-arena officials, and families of those involved with the potential return-to-play structure within the newly formed North Division occurred. This call was very similar to that of the meetings held in the summer during the league’s return for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Although no official announcement has yet been made, the decision remains in the hands of each different Canadian province as to if they will sign off on the new safety measures and protocols. There is no guarantee of a resolution prior to Christmas, however, the hope is that these decisions are made in the coming days. At this point, only Alberta (Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames) and Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets) provincial governments have signed off of the practice/training camp portions of the return-to-play structure (not including hosting in-arena games), while British Columbia (Vancouver Canucks), Ontario (Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators) and Quebec (Montreal Canadiens) have yet to agree to any part of the new proposals.
With the league expected to announce the full 2020-21 regular season schedule (56 games per team) on Wednesday, word is that the postseason will no longer end on July 15, but rather July 9, allowing the league an extra week to reschedule potentially postponed matches. Beginning on January 13, rumoured North Division matchups include Toronto vs. Montreal and Vancouver vs. Edmonton.
Should a team player or a player in close contact with a family member be considered to be at substantial risk of developing a serious illness as a result of exposure to COVID-19, that player may opt-out of the 2020-21 season, with no contractual penalty to himself or his team.
“If the player’s participation in the 2020-21 season would pose an unreasonable medical risk to an immediate family member within his household, the player may then opt out of play in the 2020-21 season on a Family Heightened-Risk Basis,” the NHL’s COVID Protocol handbook read. “The player shall notify the club of his intention to do so (with a copy to the NHL and the NHLPA pursuant to CBA Exhibit 3) within three (3) days of his receipt of the club’s recommendations concerning preventative or safety measures. The player will then be under no further obligation to play during the 2020-21 season.”
General changes for 2020-21:
- Team makeup will look slightly different once training camps open (either December 31 or January 3) as all teams will carry 4-6 players on a ‘taxi squad’ for the purpose of recall due to injury/COVID-19 concerns.
- Families of players will be allowed in various sections of the seating area in arenas (as local health authorities allow) but will not be allowed to participate in any interaction pre or post-game with players.
- Coaches and medical staff will be required to wear masks during both games and practices (something different from the summer postseason).
- Each NHL team will make one designated hotel in close proximity to their home rink the location for all opponents to reside. Hotel housekeeping staff will not be in effect.
- Players will not have roommates this season, while each member of the travelling group will be provided with his/her own hotel room. The travelling party is limited to a maximum of 50 people.
- The travelling party, including players, are not allowed to leave the hotel by any means. Clubs, bars, and restaurants are off limits. Private meals will be provided at the hotel.
Changes regarding COVID-19 testing and positive test results:
- The league will be publicly announcing the name of each player that does test positive during the season, but will not do so during training camp.
- Players traveling for training camp will require seven-day quarantines with COVID-19 testing completed on Days 1, 3, 5 and 7. This rule remains intact even if players travel privately.
- Canadian NHL clubs can use a ‘work quarantine’ to which players quarantine at home for seven days, prior to using team facilities in a restricted environment for another seven days, making up the full 14-day quarantine. In Canada, this is called a National Interest Exemption.
- Every NHL club will be required to book two additional hotel rooms each stay, to which any member of the team’s travelling party will be left in for quarantine should a positive COVID-19 test arise.
- Following the news of a positive COVID-19 test, teammates labelled as close contacts will not be required to quarantine as long as they test negative and remain asymptomatic with no fever.
A host of other changes will also be implemented for the 2020-21 season, including that of the use of helmet decals for all 31 NHL clubs. On Tuesday, teams began releasing helmet sponsors, which replace the generic club logo generally placed on the right and left upper portions of the helmet crown. Varying in size from 2.5 to 5 inches in length, the ‘small’ logos will be used in an effort to help raise an estimated $15 million over the course of the 56-game schedule.
An updated 2020-21 NHL Rule Book will contain an alteration to Rule 83.1, pertaining to that of an offside play. This change is long overdue and has been welcomed widely with open arms. The amendment now sees the offside terminology officially shift to a player’s skate no longer being required to remain in contact with the blueline to be considered ‘onside’.
“A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line,” now reads Rule 83.1 “On his own side of the line shall be defined by a “plane” of the blue line which shall extend from the leading edge of the blue line upwards. If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be on-side for the purpose of the off-side rule.”
This means that a player will no longer require his foot to be in contact with the ice to be onside. Much like that of an NFL endzone, a vertical plane on the interior side of the blueline, the exact same rules from football will now apply to hockey, but now the skate isn’t required to be on the ice. If the skate remains on the correct side of that vertical plane, the play will remain onside.
UPDATE TO @NHL RULE 83.1 (OFF-SIDE): Beginning in the 2020-21 regular season, a player's skate will not have to be in contact with the blue line in order to be on-side.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 22, 2020
After being highly advocated for a number of years, both by players, coaches and fans league-wide, this new change will lead to much fewer offside challenges and result in more goals that stand. However, the debate may now shift to whether the skate is on the correct side of that vertical plane, so there very well may still be some controversy here and there.