Don’t go asking coach John Tortorella to answer anything about how he and the Columbus Blue Jackets will use this shortened offseason.
“I don't know when the season starts,” he said last week. “I have no idea. We'll just have to wait. The season has to finish, the playoffs.”
Once that happened, maybe Tortorella will figure it out. But until then, we’ve got him covered.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic that currently has had teams sequestered by themselves and league employees in Toronto and Edmonton for more than a month, the NHL’s upcoming schedule of critical events could always be altered. If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s that things can rapidly change.
So, nothing’s set in stone, as Tortorella hinted.
“I think with the health issue going on, who knows where that's going to be,” Tortorella said. “Does a second wave come in? Who knows. It won't take the coaches that long to get their camp together and do what you have to do. We don't stray too far away in how we want to do things. But as far as the scheduling of it, I don't have a clue of when it starts again.”
Still, as the Blue Jackets enter a critical offseason, we have an idea of what the next few months will look like as they move past the 2020 postseason and start thinking about the 2020-21 regular season. Here are the important dates to keep in mind for the remainder of the year.
Columbus can trade
You probably weren’t alone if your first thought when you saw the Toronto Maple Leafs deal Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins was, “Wait a second, teams can trade during the playoffs?”
Well, they can. As long as neither team is still involved in the playoffs.
Columbus, as everyone knows by now, is in search of some sort of offensive boost to its defensive-minded team. Perhaps, that could come via a trade, as many have wondered.
“I'm going to go through every team that's a potential partner with us to see if there's something we can do to improve our team,” Jarmo Kekalainen said. “They're going to try to improve theirs. It's going to have to be that balance.”
As of now, the Blue Jackets are open for business and can hit the trade market.
Sometime in September
Players joining European teams
One of the most interesting notes to come out of last week’s coach and general manager exit interviews was the possibility of current players and prospects going overseas to play in Europe at some point in the next few months.
Yes, this is technically an offseason. But Kekalainen said he wants to avoid a situation of players feeling as though they have two offseasons in a row, especially if they’re of an age and experience level when getting ice time to develop matters a great deal.
Kekalainen told The Athletic that Emil Bemstrom, Alexandre Texier and Kole Sherwood are among the Blue Jackets players who’d make sense to spend some time playing in Europe.
“If you don't play, and we have some guys that didn't get into the lineup, so now you haven't played from March 12 until whenever the league starts – we don't know that,” Kekalainen said. “Let's say it's in December. That's nine months. You cannot take nine months from hockey. I don't care what you do off the ice for training or on the ice for training, you have to play games and be in a competitive situation where you can improve and develop the right way.”
Seasons in European leagues that could be options start as early as Sept. 2, with the Kontinental Hockey League, and as late as early October. It’s unclear which leagues Columbus players would participate in.
Stanley Cup Finals will have ended
Does this matter for Columbus’ sake? Not this year.
But it’s still an important date to keep in mind for the sake of perspective.
NHL Entry draft
The Blue Jackets will seek quality over quantity in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, which will precede free agency when it begins – as of now – on Oct. 9.
Columbus holds its first-round draft pick, which will be No. 21 overall, after not picking in the opening round last year due to its trade for Matt Duchene. Because of trades for Ryan Dzingel and Ian Cole, however, it will not pick in the second or third rounds.
An additional seven-rounder gained from trading Markus Hannikainen to the Phoenix Coyotes means the Blue Jackets will pick in the first, fourth, fifth, six and seventh (two picks) rounds on Oct. 9 and 10. To prepare, Kekalainen said, Columbus has had to take an unconventional approach.
“It's been more video, more background checks, more Zoom video interviews instead of in place at the combine and some of them are getting done in person before the combine when you take guys for lunch or a cup of coffee to get to know them,” Kekalainen said. “Now we're getting to know them via Zoom.”
Free agency opens
The start of the free-agent period could change based on when the Stanley Cup playoffs conclude. It’s set to open as late as Oct. 11.
Since Columbus is aiming to shake some things up this offseason, it could be a player for some free agents. But based on what Kekalainen said, we shouldn’t expect the Blue Jackets to go wild in mid-October when free agency starts.
“I don't believe in the July 1 signings to be the answer or recipe for success,” Kekalainen said. “That's been shown very many times. It's going to be a different date, obviously, this offseason. But growing from within is going to be a key for us.”
Training camp begins
In about two and a half months, if the calendar stays as it’s currently constructed, the Blue Jackets will be back on the ice in Columbus for training camp. If the season’s start date is altered whatsoever, the first day of training camp would clearly have to move back.
But for now, the Blue Jackets will open camp on Nov. 17.
Regular-season start date
When the calendar flips to December, we’re expecting the 2020-21 season to commence. Allow that to be a tentative date in your minds, though.
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, reiterated to NHL.com this week that the start date could be pushed back, if necessary.
“Commissioner (Gary Bettman) has repeatedly said over time that we have some flexibility to push that date, that our objective is to be able to play games with fans in our buildings to the extent that's possible, and to the great extent it's possible,” Daly told NHL.com. “That certainly gives us flexibility to move back the start of our regular season, but we also have the benefit of being able to observe what happens over the next several weeks and months with respect to the fall sports and college sports and European leagues, how everything kind of shakes out around the world, really, in terms of live sporting events and how they're conducted.”
Daly said the decision of whether or not to start on Dec. 1 will be made “at an appropriate time.”