2021 NHL season to feature new divisions, taxi squad, opt-out clause

New Divisions, Roster Rules for Sharks, NHL in 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The 2021 NHL season will be unlike any other in league history.
Due to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league and the NHL Players Association have agreed a 56-game regular season that is scheduled to begin on January 13th. There are a number of other rule changes that will affect all 31 franchises, including the Sharks who will be relocating their upcoming training camp to Scottsdale, Arizona.
Here's a look at the biggest changes for the NHL this season.
Realignment of the business areas
The NHL has cleverly grouped all seven Canadians into the Northern Division to eliminate any problems with international border travel borders. In the meantime, the Sharks have been relocated west to include two top Central Division teams from last year: the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche.
The teams play all 56 regular season games against division opponents, often playing against the same team several times in a row to reduce travel costs. The top four teams in each division will play the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin with two intradivisional rounds. Here is a breakdown of the league by division:
West: Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights
Central: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning
East: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islander, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyer, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals
North: Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets
Taxi Squad
In order to keep the roster shortage due to the corona virus and the tests as low as possible, according to CapFriendly.com, every team is also entitled to a 4-6-man taxi team.
Players in the taxi squad are permitted to travel, practice, and participate in NHL team activities, but cannot train with squads from smaller leagues. All players except the goalkeepers must be recalled by 2:00 p.m. PT to be eligible to play that day. A taxi command goalkeeper must be provided for all teams that do not have three goalkeepers on their NHL roster.
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These cab drivers receive AHL salaries and do not count towards the 23-man cap of $ 81.5 million. It will be interesting to see how the Sharks deploy their taxi squads, although the San Jose Barracuda is expected to restart in early 2021, according to general manager Doug Wilson.
Opt-out clause
The new deal also allows players to end the season amid coronavirus concerns, which means the clubs can honor this season's contract in 2021-22. According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the Sharks and other non-playoff teams have until December 24 for their opt-out period, while the 2019-20 playoff teams have until December 27.
Wilson said he was in contact with all of his players this offseason and didn't expect any player to opt out of the Sharks. He also said that some Sharks players playing overseas in Europe contracted the virus without naming them, but that no one arrived in San Jose while carrying the virus.
Important data
The entire regular season is shortened to 116 days, making it a sprint for the Stanley Cup this year. According to TSN's Frank Seravalli, here's a list of the top dates to keep an eye on.
Training camp for non-playoff teams: December 31st
Playoff team training camp: January 3rd
Opening night: January 13th
Close of trading: April 12th
End of the regular season: May 8th
Start of the playoffs: May 11th
Draft extension: July 21
NHL Draft: July 23-24
The free agency starts on July 28th
October: Beginning of the regular season 2021-22
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