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Lightning Round: It’s official, hockey is back

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The NHL’s Board of Governors announces agreement to return to play on January 13th.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On Sunday, the NHL’s Board of Governors confirmed the news that had broken late Friday, they had come to an agreement with the NHLPA on a plan to return to action for a Covid-shortened 2021 season.

The 56-game spring begins on January 13th with an anticipated end date of May 8th. The playoffs return to a 16-team format with four teams from each of the re-aligned divisions making it to the postseason. If all goes smoothly than the Stanley Cup will be awarded no later than July 15th.

Some other important dates to know for the upcoming season:

Trade Deadline: April 12th

Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken: July 21st

NHL Draft: July 23rd-24th

Start of Free Agency: July 28th

Should world events allow the NHL to maintain this schedule then that puts them back on stride to begin the 2021-22 season on time. Further details, such as schedules and the health and safety protocols involving the Return to Play are expected to be released in the next few days.

With the re-aligned divisions the Tampa Bay Lightning will be seeing a lot of some teams that they don’t normally play more than twice in a season. They are scheduled to see each one of their seven division mates nine times throughout the season. Will the NHL schedule makers have a cruel sense of humor and open the season with the Lightning and Dallas Stars in Tampa for a banner-raising ceremony?

As of right now it’s also yet to be determined if fans will be in the building for the majority of the games. There are reports that the Stars plan on having about 5,000 fans in the building for their home games. With the Toronto Raptors planning on hosting about 3,800 fans for their home games in Amalie Arena, there is a good chance that the Lightning will follow suit, but nothing official has been announced as of today. Good luck figuring out how to keep the fan base happy with such a limited amount of tickets.

Hockey News:

The accolades keep rolling in for Steven Stamkos and the Lightning. Over the weekend Sports Illustrated announced that the captain had won their 2020 Play of the Year Award for his spine-tingling Game Three goal. [Sports Illustrated]

Recent draft pick Gage Concalves may be slightly disappointed he isn’t suiting up for Team Canada at the World Juniors tournament that begins on Christmas Day, but an entry-level contract from the Lightning definitely helped him get over any sadness he might have been experiencing. [NHL.com]

“It was insane, just to see the look on my parents’ face, my sister, how proud they were,” Goncalves said of that life-altering phone call. “It was absolutely incredible to have that experience.”

Signing with the Lightning capped a whirlwind two months for Goncalves where he was taken in the NHL Draft’s Second Round in his second year of draft eligibility after being passed over the year prior; invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors camp, solidifying his standing as one of the top young players in the nation; and joined the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Why not get ready for the upcoming season with a few predictions for the Lightning? Joe Smith ponders Steven Stamkos’ availability (limited in training camp, ready to go for the first game), defensive depth, Cal Foote’s roster chances, and more. [The Athletic]

He’ll [Foote] get every opportunity, especially if there are no more additions (like a Rutta or someone else) on the right side. Foote made a nice impression at the summer training camp before the bubble and has been working out four-to-five days a week in Denver this offseason.

The league is planning on having the “North” division play in Canada despite some logistical hurdles with certain provinces restricting travel. If they do, expect it to be one of the more entertaining divisions. [The Score]

Forget the All-Canadian tag; it should be known as the All-Chaos Division.

It’s true, none of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Montreal are top-of-mind Cup contenders. Yet, in a normal season with 82 games and traditional divisions, all six franchises would absolutely challenge for a playoff spot. And the difference in high-end talent and depth between the six squads is essentially negligible. Something will have to give, every night.

Stay tuned as more details are released and keep wearing your mask.