The National Hockey League is set to drop the puck on Jan. 13 with a slate of five games, featuring the “Battle of Pennsylvania” between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.
Aside from the abbreviated 56-game campaign and the temporary divisional realignment, the NHL has also instituted a few new rules. One of the rules is projected to benefit the offense, leading to more scoring.
Here’s how the 2021 abridged NHL season will function differently.
Teams Must Carry More Goalies
Three weeks before COVID-19 suspended the 2019-20 NHL season, emergency backup goaltender David Ayers became a hockey god after he was called up to mind the net for the Carolina Hurricanes.
After both Hurricanes goalies were injured during their game against the Toronto Maples Leafs, the 42-year-old Zamboni driver skated onto the ice and led the visiting team to victory. Ayers became the first EBUG to record a win in NHL history.
With the coronavirus pandemic still looming, goalie availability has become of utmost importance. As a result, the NHL requires that each team carry three goalies between their active roster and the taxi squad. This change will eliminate the need for EBUGs.
Expanded ‘Taxi Squad’ Roster
Like previous seasons, all teams will compete with a 23-player roster and must adhere to the $81.5 million salary cap. In 2021, however, the league will permit each team to carry between four and six additional players on its “taxi squad.”
These added players will not only practice with the team, they’ll potentially travel to away games as well. Since quarantine requirements differ from state-to-state and country-to-country, the expanded “taxi squads” will eliminate the laborious logistics involved in calling up a player.
Adjusted Offside Rule
Over the last several seasons, the offside rule has been a topic of debate among executives and players. During the general managers meetings in March 2020, everyone agreed the NHL needed to alter the interpretation of the rule.
Staring Jan. 13, a player’s skate will no longer need to be in contact with the blue line in order to be onside.
The updated language for Rule 83.1 reads: “If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be onside for the purpose of the offside rule.”
The “plane” is an imaginary vertical line that extends “from the leading edge of the blue line upward.” The offensive player will no longer need to drag their skate across the ice to make sure they’re touching the blue line prior to the puck entering the attacking zone.
The NHL hopes the new language will reduce coaches’ challenges and increase scoring. According to the NHL Hockey Operations Department, if the rule change was implemented last season, 14 more goals would have been scored.
Player Contracts and Bonuses
NHL players were extremely happy to learn their salaries would not be prorated for the abbreviated 56-game season. They are deferring 10% of their earnings, however, to help offset the lack of revenue.
Regrading performance bonuses, thresholds will be prorated by 56/82, ESPN reported. If a player was to receive $212,500 for scoring 20 goals, he would need just 14 goals, but would only get paid $145,122.
As for rookies, they’re entry-level contract kicks in once they play in 10 games. For the 2021 season, however, the contract triggers when they play in seven games.