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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
The NHL's 2019-20 season is drawing to a close. While the action on the ice is finally ending following a four-month interruption by the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic, the offseason business is about to begin.
With labour peace during the next six years assured by a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), team general managers can focus on building their roster for next season. Because of the effects of COVID-19 on league revenue, they must work with a salary cap remaining at $81.5 million.
Teams with limited salary-cap space, such as the St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, will be forced to shed a contract or two to re-sign key players or address glaring roster issues. Those with plenty of space, such as the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings, could target those cap-strapped clubs to acquire a quality player. They could also pursue talent in this year’s free agent market.
The draft will be held on Oct. 6 and 7. Rimouski Oceanic left-winger Alexis Lafrenière is expected to be selected first overall by the New York Rangers, who won the selection in the second draft lottery in August.
General managers usually use the draft as an opportunity to discuss trades involving established NHL players. They won't be able to do so face-to-face as in previous years as the 2020 drafts will be held online. Nevertheless, some of them could manage to wheel-and-deal while making their draft selections during the course of those two days.
Several non-playoff clubs, or those eliminated from post-season play, haven't wasted time making moves. Since Aug. 25, seven trades involving NHL players took place. The most recent saw the Red Wings acquire defenceman Marc Staal on Saturday from the Rangers, while the Pittsburgh Penguins last week shipped winger Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for defenceman Mike Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour.
Those moves set the hockey rumour mill buzzing. Penguins goalie Matt Murray, Winnipeg Jets left-winger Patrik Laine, Montreal Canadiens centre Max Domi, and Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba are among the noteworthy names popping up in media-generated trade speculation.
The annual NHL free-agent period begins on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. Atlantic. Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, Arizona Coyotes left-winger Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins defenceman Torey Krug and Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner are among the notables slated to become unrestricted free agents. Under the new CBA, they no longer have a week to be courted by other clubs. Expect their agents to be busy fielding offers once the market opens.
Hanging over all of this is uncertainty is when the 2020-21 season will begin. Training camps are tentatively slated to begin in November, with the regular season starting Dec. 1. However, league commissioner Gary Bettman recently suggested it could slide into late December or January. They hope to stage a full 82-game schedule, but what that will look like has yet to be determined.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with the Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.
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