In a normal year, July 1 would traditionally mark the opening of the NHL’s unrestricted free agency period. The past year and a half have been anything but normal, but the league is back in full swing with the Stanley Cup Final underway - and the current champion Tampa Bay Lightning looking strong to defend their title. Within the next week and a half, another season will be complete, paving the way for a busy, active offseason.
As the coming months pass, there will be plenty of storylines to follow, both across the NHL at large and specifically when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres. While Don Granato has been officially named the team’s new head coach, there’s still plenty of work to do, including naming his assistants. The expansion draft is just a few short weeks away, followed quickly by the entry draft itself. Free agency, training camp, preseason — all just a blink of an eye away. Throw in some trades and other moves that may happen along the way, and there’s a lot to keep an eye out for.
With that said, here’s a quick rundown of some of the important dates to be reminded of in the coming months.
First, the Stanley Cup will be awarded sometime between July 5 and July 11. At this point, with the Lightning up by a pair of games, we could see the season culminate as soon as Monday if things continued the way they’re going. Either way, the 2021 NHL season will be finished no later than July 11.
The league announced plans to release its schedule for the 2021-22 season in mid-July. No specific date for this one, but it’s good to know that it’s coming. In his press availability earlier this week, commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL plans to go back to its standard divisional alignments and have a full schedule next season. Player involvement in the Olympics is still TBA, but there is an NHL All-Star Game planned in Vegas.
The Seattle Kraken will build their inaugural season roster with the NHL Expansion Draft to be held on July 21 and televised on ESPN2. Seattle will select one player from each existing team aside from Vegas.
Per NHL.com, here are the rules for which players teams can protect:
“Current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie, under the following conditions.
* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.
* All first- and second-year professionals, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection and will not be counted toward protection limits.”
Two days later comes the NHL Draft on July 23 and 24. Once again, it’s all happening ‘virtually’ this year (no in-person draft). The first round will be televised on ESPN2, with the second day televised on NHL Network as per usual. The Sabres currently hold the first-overall pick.
Free agency opens on July 28 at 12 noon. As it stands, Sabres player set to hit the market include Tobias Rieder, Riley Sheahan, Drake Caggiula, Matt Irwin, Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark and Jake McCabe. Jean-Sebastian Des, Steven Fogarty, C.J. Smith, Brandon Davidson and Michael Houser are also set to become unrestricted free agents.
Among those who will become restricted free agents: Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Asplund, Casey Mittelstadt, Will Borgen, Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharu.
Training camp is expected to begin in mid-to-late September, with preseason to follow. The regular season will then begin in mid-October.