NHL commissioner Gary Bettman prepares for the first round of...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman prepares for the first round of the 2020 National Hockey League Draft at the NHL Network Studio on October 6, 2020 in Secaucus, New Jersey. Credit: TNS/Mike Stobe

It was inevitable the NHL would look different this coming season given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The specific changes became clearer on Tuesday as the league and the NHL Players’ Association released their health, safety and travel protocols while announcing a welcome change to the offside rule. Also, the Capitals and Devils became the first teams to place sponsor logos on their helmets, permitted now to combat the revenue deficit.

The upcoming season’s critical dates were also confirmed, with training camps opening on Jan. 3 for the 24 teams that qualified for the postseason and on Dec. 31 for the seven teams whose season ended on March 12 when play was halted. The 56-game regular-season opens on Jan. 13 and ends on May 8 with the last possible date of the Stanley Cup Final on July 9.

The schedule is expected to be released on Wednesday.

The offside rule was changed so that a player’s skate blade no longer has to be on the ice to be on-side as long as the blade is behind the plane of the blue line.

As for travel protocols, the NHL will set up a common hotel for visiting teams in each city. The traveling party will be restricted to the hotel, practice rink and arena, meaning trips to local restaurants or shops will not be permitted.

Home teams must make either their arena or practice facility available to visiting teams for practices and no practices will be open to the public.

Coaches will now be required to wear masks on the bench but not when conducting on-ice practices. Full team practices will be allowed but capacity in the weight room and other training facilities will be limited to 10 players.

Players who test positive for COVID-19 will be revealed during the regular season. However, only the overall number of positive results will be revealed during training camp, not the individual identities. Those considered close contacts will not be required to quarantined if they test negative and are asymptomatic.

The NHL and NHLPA protocol plan allows for media to attend games and practices but to have no interactions with team personnel. All interviews will be conducted via Zoom.

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