Frozen Grounds: The NHL Offseason

The NHL playoffs may be over, and the Stanley Cup won, but hockey isn't quite ready to close its doors, melt down the ice, and take its summer break in earnest.

Now that the NHL season is over and the Stanley Cup has been awarded to the Los Angeles Kings, the offseason has begun. But there are still a few loose ends to tie up before the dog days of summer happen. Even still, the lament of "Is it October yet?" have started, however weakly, around the hockey fan bases at every level.

The first stop of the offseason is the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas, which is tonight, 20 June. The league goes all out for this with red carpet entrances, celebrity presenters, musical guests - the whole works. It can be a bit cheesy, but it's also a good time.

And, it's televised as well. In Canada, it will be on CBC online and on TV; while in the US it will be on NBC Sports Network on TV only. Festivities begin at 8 pm locally. The NHL is streaming the red carpet portion of the show on its website as well. You can find a list of the finalists also at NHL.com.

The second stop is the NHL Draft, which is 22-23 June at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The first round is televised in Canada on TSN, starting at 4 pm Pacific. It's also televised in the US on NBC Sports Network, starting at the same time.

The Draft is a seven round affair, with the first round being played out on TV with all the pomp and circumstance awarded to those players. The next six rounds the following day aren't so glamorous. However, no hockey player is ever unhappy to be drafted, even if they'd hoped to be drafted higher.

According the NHL's rules on draft eligibility:

All players age 19 or older [(i) any player who will be age 18 on or before September 15 in the year in which such Entry Draft is held, or (ii) reaches his 19th birthday between September 16 and December 31, both dates included, next following Entry Draft, can attain eligibility by delivering to the League a written notice (Opt in Form) prior to the later of May 1, or seven days following the date such player finishes competing on his team in the year in which such draft is to be held.] are eligible for claim in the Entry Draft, except:

(i) A Player on the Reserve List of a Club, other than as a try-out;

(ii) A player who has been claimed in two prior Entry Drafts;

(iii) A player who previously played in the League and became a free agent pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement;

(iv) A plyer age 21 or older who had played hockey for at least one season in North America when he was age 18, 19 or 20

A few major trades happen in the first round, but that doesn't always happen every year. But that's a big reason for many to watch the draft. They want to see if any major trades happen in case teams decide to try to jockey for a better or worse draft position. Of course, seeing who your team picks in the first round is also a big draw - particularly for those teams that get to pick early.

The next stop is July 1st - the start of NHL free agency. Or, as some refer to it, Hockey Christmas. The festivities kick off at midnight; however, most of the action doesn't really start until after sunrise. TSN.ca has a free agent tracker on their website as signings and trades happen, but many teams, agents, and a few players will announce those things well before it hits any website on Twitter. Thankfully, 1 July is a Sunday this year, so no one will have to take the day off for it, as some do.

The last stop before training camps open are rookie camps. These typically happen in the first two weeks of July, and the dates vary from team to team. Rookie camps give teams a chance to evaluate draft picks and prospects to get a better idea of where they are in their development.

After that...hockey desert. No hockey to be had until September. But, this season, that might not even happen in the NHL. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires 15 September of this year, and it's not looking good. As of this writing, the NHL and the NHL Players Association are reportedly scheduled to meet to discuss a new CBA next week.

While no one expects an entire season to be lost - which is what happened to the 2004-2005 NHL season - the general consensus among hockey media is that the season will likely start late. Speculation has been that there could be a repeat of the shortened 1994-1995 season, which started in January. Time will tell how that will go, however.

Even if the NHL does start in December or January this coming season, the minor leagues should be starting on time. And the European leagues will play as usual as well. So while there may not be NHL hockey come this October, there will still be hockey going on somewhere.

One last bit of information to look forward to: the NHL regular season schedule. Preseason schedules are already being released by teams individually. But as of today....

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