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Weekend Flurries: Winter Classic postponed and Justin Barron debuts

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The NHL gives us a few updates and Colorado’s first round pick makes his debut

2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Nashville Predators v Dallas Stars Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

The Minnesota Wild and their fanbase have been dying for another outdoor game since their first one back in the 2016-17 season.

It seemed they were finally poised to get their wish when the NHL announced last New Years that the Wild would host the 2021 Winter Classic at Target Field — but as seems to be the case this year, things just aren’t going to go according to plan.

It was announced earlier this week that the 2021 Winter Classic will be postponed, pushing Minnesota’s chance to host the league’s most prestigious outdoor game back by a full year:

As mentioned above, this doesn’t impact the league’s intention to start the season on New Years Day — something they’ve been promoting since the playoffs. But it does come with the added disappointment that the All Star Game, which was headed to Florida, will be postponed as well.

It’s not a huge surprise, given the fact that the United States is seeing a concerning upswing in covid numbers late in October. But for fans who have been dying for something to finally go right, it’s a bit of a blow.

Speaking of covid-related delays: while the Ontario Hockey League has been publicly expressing hope that they’ll be able to start play in just over a month, there are rumblings that the real start date for the major junior league’s season is even farther off.

The OHL’s start date ambiguity doesn’t come as a particularly huge shock. The league has been making headlines over their uncertainty regarding safety precautions, both due to rising covid-19 case numbers in Ontario and due to the difficulties that the nearby QMJHL has been suffering with keeping the season in uninterrupted play with an earlier start date.

So far, that pushed-back projection hasn’t been confirmed. But for fans hoping to see team prospects sooner rather than later, it’s not great news.

We have some good news from the QMJHL this weekend as Colorado’s 2020 first round draft pick Justin Barron has been medically cleared to play and was in the Halifax lineup for the first time last night. He wasn’t credited with an assist but Barron made a nice play to set up the first goal for the Moosheads.

In minor signing news: Nikita Nesterov, former Tampa Bay Lightning defender, has decided that he’s ready to head back to North America once again.

The 27-year-old opted to return to Russia to play in the KHL at the start of the 2017-18 season, enabling him to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics and boost his numbers a bit with CSKA Moscow over a three-year stint. But he’s returning to the NHL next season, and for an affordable deal; he’s inked a one-year contract with the Calgary Flames, paying out just $700,000 for the season. [Sportsnet]

One player who still hasn’t signed? Mike Hoffman — but that might change soon. According to his agent, teams have still been showing the free agent forward ‘serious interest’. No word yet where he might head next year, but he’s the best free agent still left on the market. [NHL.com]

Finally, in women’s hockey news: the PWHPA is back for 2021! They were given a $1M commitment by Secret, the deodorant brand, to fund the Dream Gap Tour for the upcoming year. [Sportsnet]

The Dream Gap Tour was started in 2019, following the abrupt folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Dozens of players, who felt slighted by the lack of effort poured into a viable women’s league with a livable wage in North America, announced a commitment to taking a ‘gap year’ away from the professional game to instead raise awareness for professional women’s hockey.

The Dream Gap Tour saw tremendous turnout at a handful of exhibition games and events across North America, which helped to raise awareness for women’s hockey and bring some additional voices to the conversation of how to get a viable league started. But the continued growth of the NWHL, the American-based professional women’s league that played as an alternative to the CWHL (and didn’t fold in 2019), has raised questions about how successful the PWHPA will be in securing commitment from bigger investors to start another league. The NHL has made a few lukewarm statements expressing vague commitment to women’s hockey, but don’t seem interested in helping the women’s game get a more strongly-funded women’s league off the ground unless there are no other options left — and with the NWHL expanding to Toronto and restructuring their executive personnel to bring former MiLB executive Tyler Tumminia into the fold as a new commisioner, it’s hard to see that being the case any time soon.