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When is the NHL entry draft and other important dates for the Canucks offseason?

What is the deadline for RFA qualifying offers? When is the Seattle Kraken expansion draft? When does free agency begin? And how do all of these affect the Canucks?
bill daly draft lottery
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly reveals the results of the draft lottery.

We’re about two months away from the biggest events of the NHL offseason — the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, NHL Entry Draft, and the opening of free agency — but those are not the only important dates for the Vancouver Canucks.

Let’s take a look at the upcoming calendar for the NHL and how it affects the Canucks, with a couple of key dates coming early next week.

June 1 - Deadline for signing 2019 draft picks out of the CHL

When an NHL team picks a player in the draft, they hold that players rights for only a certain length of time. For 18-year-old players drafted out of a European league that has a transfer agreement with the NHL, for example, teams hold their rights for four years. 

In the case of Russia, which does not have a transfer agreement with the NHL, teams hold the rights to draft picks indefinitely. The Canucks, for example, still technically hold the rights to 38-year-old defenceman Kirill Koltsov, who they selected in the second round of the 2002 draft, even though he retired from hockey two years ago.

For players signed out of the CHL — Canada’s three major junior leagues — that window is just two years. If a team doesn’t sign a draft pick after two years, that player goes back into the draft. 

The deadline for signing CHL picks from 2019 is on June 1. The Canucks have already signed Carson Focht, their fifth-round pick out of the WHL that year, but they have not signed Ethan Keppen, their fourth-round pick out of the OHL.

Keppen played some games for the Utica Comets on an amateur tryout contract this past season, but it’s still up in the air whether they’ll sign him to an entry-level contract by June 1. If they don’t, he’ll go back into the draft.

June 2 - NHL Draft Lottery

This is a big one. This is where the Canucks will find out where they’ll be picking in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. 

Thanks to a pair of wins and an overtime loss in their final four games of the season, the Canucks went from the third-best odds to get the first-overall pick to the ninth-best odds. Instead of having a 10.3% chance at picking first, they’ll have a 5.4% chance.

Technically, their odds are slightly better than that. Very slightly. The Arizona Coyotes are also in the draft lottery, with a 3.1% chance of moving up to first overall. They have forfeited their first-round pick, however, as part of a punishment for breaking the rules for testing prospects during the 2019-20 season.

As a result, if the Coyotes get selected in the draft lottery, there will be a redraw, which provides a very slight boost to every other team’s odds of getting picked.

The most likely result for the Canucks at 58.6% is picking ninth overall. There’s also a small chance — 2.4% — that they move down two spots to 11th overall. That would require two teams who finished ahead of them in the standings getting selected in the lottery for the first and second-overall picks.

24 hours after end of Stanley Cup Final - First buy-out period begins

The last possible day for the Stanley Cup Finals is July 15, with a possibility of the Stanley Cup being awarded earlier. A day after that, the first buy-out period of the year will begin.

Jim Benning has said that he and the Canucks will be aggressive this offseason and that buyouts “are going to be part of our strategy.” This will be his primary opportunity to put Francesco Aquilini’s money where his mouth is.

July 17 - Deadline for expansion draft protection lists

Specifically, the deadline is 2pm PST on July 17. The Canucks, along with every other NHL team, will need to submit their protection list to the Kraken, informing them of which players will not be available for selection.

That means this is also the deadline for making a trade with a team that has too many players to protect. This could be an opportunity for the Canucks to acquire a defenceman or third-line centre and add them to their own protect list, as the Canucks can afford to expose another player or two.  

“We're going to do our due diligence of talking to every team in the league and if there's things that we can do to teams maybe that have issues with expansion, we'll be talking to them and trying to figure it out,” said Benning.

After teams submit lists, the Kraken will have a window from July 18-21 where they have exclusive negotiating rights with unrestricted free agents. The catch? Any UFA they sign counts as their selection from that player’s former team for the expansion draft.

July 21 - Seattle Kraken expansion draft

The Canucks’ new geographical rivals will have an actual roster in a couple of months. The Kraken could do the Canucks a favour by taking Braden Holtby and his contract off their hands, but it’s more likely they’ll lean towards a young forward, such as Jonah Gadjovich.

The pickings are pretty slim from the Canucks, which opens up an intriguing possibility: what if the Canucks could send an asset or two to get the Kraken to take Loui Eriksson off their hands? The Kraken will have plenty of cap space and could absorb Eriksson’s cap hit for the final year of his contract.

July 23-24 - 2021 NHL Entry Draft

July 23 will be the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, with rounds 2-7 following on July 24. This will be a highly-anticipated date for Canucks fans as they’ll definitely have a top-11 pick and might even pick first or second overall. 

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this year’s draft class, as many prospects didn’t play as many games as they normally would have and travel restrictions made for in-person scouting difficult. As a result, the first round of the draft should be pretty wild, with teams likely having incredibly disparate draft lists.

That means some teams could go way off the board with their picks, while other players expected to go early in the draft could slide way down.

July 26 - Qualifying offer deadline for RFAs

Just after the draft is the deadline to give qualifying offers to restricted free agents. These qualifying offers don’t have to be accepted by the players, but they allow the teams to retain the rights of those players.

The Canucks have 11 restricted free agents, including the two big ones: Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. 

Some players, like Petrus Palmu and Mitch Eliot, are unlikely to receive qualifying offers and will then become unrestricted free agents. 

July 27 - First buy-out period ends

At 2pm PST, the first buy-out period will end. If the Canucks haven’t bought out a player by July 27, they will be unable to do so unless a restricted free agent goes to arbitration.

After a player goes through arbitration and a settlement is reached, a second buy-out period opens, though it has more restrictions involved than the first buy-out period. 

July 28 - Free agency opens

The proverbial free agent frenzy will kick off on July 28 at 9am PST. With Benning promising to be aggressive and looking to free up cap space via buyouts, the Canucks could be active on the first day of free agency.

August 11-26 - Salary arbitration hearings

The Canucks have six restricted free agents who are eligible for salary arbitration: Jayce Hawryluk, Marc Michaelis, Lukas Jasek, Petrus Palmu, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jake Kielly.

It’s unlikely, however, that any of them will elect for arbitration, as none of them have a case for a raise from their qualifying offers, if they get qualifying offers in the first place.

That means the Canucks are very unlikely to have a second buy-out window. If they want to buy out any players this offseason, they’ll need to do so by July 27. 

September - Training camp and preseason

With the NHL aiming for a return to a normal schedule for the 2021-22 season, the Canucks will need to kick off their training camp sometime in mid-September. 

With the Canucks moving their AHL affiliate to Abbotsford, it’s likely they’ll aim for a preseason game or two in the Abbotsford Events Centre.

October 12 - Tentative start to 2021-22 season

The NHL is aiming for October 12 to start the 2021-22 season, though that is contingent on Canada reducing the restrictions on cross-border travel. 

There is also a possibility that fans will be allowed in Rogers Arena for the start of the 2021-22 season, with Dr. Bonnie Henry suggesting that spectators could be allowed for sporting events in the fall as vaccination numbers increase and COVID-19 cases decrease.