|Winter is coming|
The latest the NHL can realistically be allowed to finish the Stanley Cup playoffs is June 24, 2013, which will barely be enough time to hold the NHL Draft Lottery, conduct the Draft itself, allow teams the opportunity to deal with their RFAs, pending UFAs and make trades before July 1st.
On average, 4 rounds of the NHL playoffs now take 54 days, excluding travel days between series which typically range between 6 and 8 days in total. That translates to the regular season ending no later than April 23 with the playoffs starting just 2 days later. Now comes the task of squeezing in 48 games at a realistic rate.
The busiest month of the season for the NHL is typically March, where even the 2009-10 Olympic schedule remained on par with non-Olympic years, averaging 230 games played in 31 days. That works out to each team playing a game every 2.08 days, which means a 48 game season would be played at playoff pace over 100 days, before the playoffs even begin.
To do that, puck drop on the 2012-13 season would need to be January 13. At best, it would take 9 days to recall players and have a mini-camp which means a new CBA agreement between the NHL and NHLPA needs to be signed by January 4th.
While there’s no official drop dead date, the first week of January certainly seems to be the drop dead window, if 48 games is the minimum they’re prepared to play. Assuming the NHL could somehow manage to shave a few days off what would already be a very hectic schedule, my best guess at the NHL's drop dead date is January 7th, much sooner than many are prepared to admit.