The 2021 NHL Draft is on schedule for July 23-24 despite discussions between the NHL and NHL Players' Association about deferring it to a later date, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Thursday.
The first round is scheduled for July 23. Rounds 2-7 are scheduled for July 24.
"It's a complicated issue, it implicates a lot of different provisions of our collective bargaining agreement, and it's difficult to work through those issues," Daly said. "I don't have a definitive answer for you now. We hope to have a definitive answer that we can announce publicly in the next little while. I would say my view would be it's more likely than not that the 2021 draft would go forward as currently scheduled, which is in late July."
The challenge for teams this year is a majority of draft-eligible prospects are either not playing or playing modified schedules, and traveling to scout them has been problematic and in some cases impossible because of restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ontario Hockey League has not yet begun playing this season; the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League each is playing a modified schedule.
NCAA programs are playing, but some have had to stop and restart again because of COVID-19 issues.
"We've had different issues associated in Europe as well," Daly said, "and that is compounded by the fact that the club scouts, who are charged and employed to scout these prospects, to learn about them and to advise their clubs on those prospects, haven't been able for the most part to travel or watch them in person.
"It is certainly an imperfect situation, but we've been dealing with imperfect situations since at least March 12 of last year, so in that respect it's not a lot different than some of the other things we've had to do."
Daly said the NHL is in the process of working on potential changes to the NHL Draft Lottery system and could have approval from its Board of Governors and an announcement sometime next week.
Daly wouldn't specify the nature of the changes to the draft lottery system, saying only "it involves a couple of tweaks to our current lottery system."
Under the current system, the team that finishes 31st in the NHL standings has an 18.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
The New York Rangers won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery despite finishing 18th in the standings, the highest finish for any team selecting first since 1994, when the Florida Panthers finished 16th and had the No. 1 pick, selecting defenseman Ed Jovanovski.
The Rangers selected forward Alexis Lafreniere.
"There are some clubs who recently think it's important that the teams that are struggling the most get the most help," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "There are other teams, a number, that think there is nothing wrong with the present system at all. I don't believe there is tanking in the game. I think our players and our organizations, our coaches are too professional. But there is always speculation as to what's really going on.
"Our competitive balance is so extraordinary that some clubs feel that the difference between a team that misses the playoffs and a team that really misses the playoffs really isn't all that great. In order to try to reconcile those competing views we thought maybe a little bit of a tweak. The system wasn't necessarily crying out for major change."