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NHL now aiming for a January 13th start date — how does this affect the Canucks?

The stalemate between the NHL and NHLPA appears to have been resolved and planning for the upcoming season can begin in earnest.
Jack Rathbone was selected by the Canucks in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. photo: Canucks / YouTube

While nothing is set in stone, the NHL is at least starting to use pens with permanent ink. While these new plans could get scrapped and chucked into a wastebasket in the future, the NHL and NHLPA appear to have landed on an actual starting date for the 2020-21 season.

Perhaps it should just be called the 2021 season, as the puck won’t get dropped until January 13th.

This is according to a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who says the NHL and NHLPA have a working agreement to get the season started, operating under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the two sides signed in the summer before the start of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Reports last month indicated that some NHL owners were unhappy with the MOU, likely because they were not anticipating having empty arenas for the upcoming season. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, however, many NHL teams will be experiencing shortfalls in revenue and wanted to negotiate further escrow and salary deferral from the players.

Understandably, the NHLPA viewed this as operating in bad faith. The MOU signed in the summer already included terms for salary deferral and escrow. For the NHL to comeback and ask for further concessions was seen as unacceptable by the players, with many feeling angry and betrayed, particularly since the ask came just one month before NHL training camps would have needed to open to meet the original planned January 1st start date.

While there may be an increase in salary deferral — a delay in paying out the full value of player contracts to account for the financial situation during the pandemic — it appears that there will not be any increase in escrow and the NHL is asking for no further concessions.

That allows the league to get to practical matters.

In order to meet a January 13th start date, training camp will need to begin in early January or late December. According to Dreger, current discussions are leaning towards a 10-day training camp with no preseason games. That would place the start of training camp on January 3rd.

All international travellers arriving in B.C. are required by law to quarantine for 14 days, so any members of the Canucks that are not already in Canada will need to arrive in Vancouver by December 20th. That means they’ll be celebrating Christmas in quarantine.

That’s one of the reasons why Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko stayed in Vancouver instead of returning home to Ånge, Sweden or San Diego, California. By staying in Vancouver, they won’t have to worry about the 14-day quarantine and can simply stay in their usual bubble leading up to training camp.

Some international Canucks are already making their way to Vancouver. Braden Holtby and his family arrived in Vancouver in mid-November, though it took Holtby a couple extra days as he was stuck at the border with his family’s two pet tortoises while sorting out paperwork. He’s completed his 14-day quarantine and has been spotted on the ice with other Canucks (and former Canucks) to prepare for training camp.

One of the Canucks’ most exciting prospects, Jack Rathbone, is also on his way to Vancouver from Boston, where he’s been training with other Boston-area players. He has yet to participate in a Canucks training camp for two reasons. One is that NCAA players have to pay their own way to NHL camps or be in violation of the NCAA’s “amateurism” rules. The other is that the college classes typically start before NHL training camps do.

His first training camp, however, is going to be an odd one, as the Canucks will have to make some quick decisions. Rathbone could find himself heading back to the U.S. in short order.

The Canucks’ AHL affiliate will be playing their season, whenever it begins, in Utica. The option of moving the Comets temporarily to Canada was abandoned when it became clear that it would be too costly. The complication is that the Canucks won’t be able to make quick call-ups from their farm team in case of injuries — any call-up would need to spend another 14 days in quarantine.

One possibility is to have a taxi squad in Vancouver — players that are technically assigned to the Comets but stay and train with the Canucks. Considering there are other teams in the same situation — the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames — it’s an option that might be tenable.

In that case, Rathbone and other prospects with potential to play in the NHL this season, such as Nils Höglander and Kole Lind, could be in Vancouver long term.