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NHL Playoff and Offseason Schedule

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How fast is the run to the cup? And then what happens?

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game One
Vegas pregame in Edmonton.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The 2020 CBA Memo of Understanding signed in July before the playoffs began is a little vague on timing. They did that on purpose to allow for flexibility in the face of a lot of unknowns about playing hockey in two hub cities in a pandemic.

Their plans for the hubs looked good on paper, and the results so far have shown they’ve executed them very well. There have now been three consecutive weeks inside the hubs with zero positive tests for the players. And yet, no one is relaxing. The NHL is choosing to push through with a tight schedule, and as of now, the Stanley Cup might not be awarded in October as originally planned for. It’s more likely to be won in September.

With Round One of the playoffs ending before any team hit Game Seven, the start of Round Two was moved up by two days, and three of the four series already have Game One in the books. The schedule includes back-to-backs, just like Round One had.

From NHL.com, this is the full second round schedule:

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs. New York Islanders (6)

Monday, Aug. 24, 7 p.m.: Islanders at Flyers | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 3 p.m.: Islanders at Flyers | NBCSN, SN, TVAS

Thursday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m.: Flyers at Islanders | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Saturday, Aug. 29, 12 p.m.: Flyers at Islanders | NBC, SN, TVAS

*Monday, Aug. 31, TBD: Islanders at Flyers | TBD

*Wednesday, Sept. 2, TBD: Flyers at Islanders | TBD

*Thursday, Sept. 3, TBD: Islanders at Flyers | TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Boston Bruins (4)

Game 1: Bruins 3, Lightning 2

Tuesday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.: Bruins at Lightning | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 8 p.m.: Lightning at Bruins | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Friday, Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.: Lightning at Bruins | USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

*Sunday, Aug. 30, TBD: Bruins at Lightning | TBD

*Tuesday, Sept. 1, TBD: Lightning at Bruins | TBD

*Wednesday, Sept. 2, TBD: Bruins at Lightning | TBD

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)

Game 1: Golden Knights 5, Canucks 0

Tuesday, Aug. 25, 9:45 p.m.: Canucks at Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Thursday, Aug. 27, 9:45 p.m.: Golden Knights at Canucks | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

Saturday, Aug. 29, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights at Canucks | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

*Monday, Aug. 31, TBD: Canucks at Golden Knights | TBD

*Tuesday, Sept. 1, TBD: Golden Knights at Canucks | TBD

*Thursday, Sept. 3, TBD: Canucks at Golden Knights | TBD

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Dallas Stars (3)

Game 1: Stars 5, Avalanche 3

Monday, Aug. 24, 9:45 p.m.: Stars at Avalanche | NBCSN, SN, TVAS

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 10:30 p.m.: Avalanche at Stars | NBCSN, SN, TVAS

Friday, Aug. 28, 10 p.m.: Avalanche at Stars | NBCSN, SN, TVAS

*Sunday, Aug. 30, TBD: Stars at Avalanche | TBD

*Monday, Aug. 31, TBD: Avalanche at Stars | TBD

*Wednesday, Sept. 2, TBD: Stars at Avalanche | TBD

The eastern teams each play two back-to-backs if they go the distance, while in the west, they each play one. With September 3 as the last possible date, this series will cover 13 days. If no one needs Game 7 again, they can shave one day off of that, two if the right series ends before Game 6. At this pace, they can finish the Conference Finals by September 15, and the Stanley Cup Final before September 30, even if all series go the distance.

There has to be allowance made for the eastern winners to travel to Edmonton after Round Two, of course.

Offseason Dates

The CBA contains a schedule of dates that was based around a start of training camp of July 10, while the reality was teams didn’t report until July 13. Round One of the playoffs was supposed to start on August 9, and it actually began August 11, so time has been made up already.

One thing that’s usually in the offseason actually starts before the end of the playoffs:

Later of September 25 or beginning of SCF (Stanley Cup Final): First Buy-Out Period Begins.

There are new buyout rules for 35+ contracts which allow some of them to be bought out and not count against the cap, but there’s a line in the new CBA that says:

Buyouts • The parties agree that for purposes of First Period Buyouts done following the 2019-20 season, the rights of the Club/Player will be determined as if the Buyout had occurred as of June 15, 2020.

So this seems to indicate that all the old rules apply. The player must clear unconditional waivers and therefore be healthy, and have been on the roster at the trade deadline. There is a minimum AAV that a contract must have to be bought out, and it should be the same as last season (it’s tied to minimum salary increases) which is $3,455,438, per CapFriendly.

The second buyout window is after arbitration is over in November, and has a hard minimum AAV of $4,000,000 and an exemption from the usual waivers requirement for players with a No-Move clause.

The rest of the dates are all qualified in the CBA in case the SCF actually runs past October 2, but that seems so unlikely, we can ignore all that for now.

October 4: Club-elected salary arbitration deadline at 5 p.m.

There is a base salary minimum on this election, and it was $2,198,916 last year, so should stay the same. The Leafs have several players with arbitration rights, but none that qualify for this club-elected window.

October 6: 2020 NHL Draft - still considered a tentative date, but it’s the most likely date the draft will fall on. The draft is scheduled to take place in one day, not the usual two and won’t be a live event. October 6 is a Tuesday, and is the week before Thanksgiving.

October 6: Qualifying Offers are due at 5 p.m. All RFAs not issued a Qualifying Offer become UFAs when free agency opens.

October 9: Free Agency opens, and RFAs can accept their Qualifying Offers if they choose to.

October 10: Player-elected arbitration deadline is 5 p.m. The next minute marks the beginning of the second club-elected period which ends 24 hours later.

The club-elected arbitration has different rules in this window. Teams have to offer at least the prior season’s salary including bonuses, and players can only be subject to one club-elected arbitration in their career. The teams can only elect arbitration on two players per year.

Most of the usual rules apply, but there is one exception preventing teams from walking away clean from results they don’t like:

For 2020, in the event a Club exercises their Walk-Away Right (pursuant to Section 12.10 of the CBA) relating to a one-year Salary Arbitration award, the Player may within four (4) days of receipt of notice from the Club that they are exercising their Walk-Away Right, elect to enter into an SPC with the Club on the same terms as the Club had offered in the Club’s Salary Arbitration Brief.

Arbitration hearings will be scheduled to run between October 20 and November 8, or longer if necessary.

October 18: Qualifying Offers expire. This doesn’t mean the player is a UFA, it simply means their negotiating strategy of simply accepting that offer is no longer available. The team still holds the rights to the player and can negotiate a contract of any sort.

November 17: The tentative date for training camp for the 2020-2021 season. The CBA MOU contains no language around how that training camp is supposed to be run, or what the contingency plan is if it’s not possible to do. Expect some NHL and NHLPA negotiation to take place as soon as the draft is out of the way.