By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
There will indeed be a 2021 NHL season, as the NHL and NHLPA officially approved a 56-game season Sunday.
The season will begin with a Jan. 3 training camp (Dec. 31 for the seven teams not invited to the playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton this past summer), and the league will skip a preseason, with regular season games beginning Jan. 13 and ending on May 8.
“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season, especially since the Return to Play in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “While we are well aware of the challenges ahead, as was the case last spring and summer, we are continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and play. And, as was the case last spring and summer, I thank the NHLPA, particularly Executive Director Don Fehr, for working cooperatively with us to get our league back on the ice.”
This agreement has come with a temporary realignment, too, with the teams broken up by location.
The Boston Bruins, for example, will play in what’s being called the East Division.
Other teams in the East Division include the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
The Central Division will be comprised of Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Then there’s the West Division, which will include the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights.
There will be an all Canada division, as well, featuring the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets. That division will be called the North Division.
This 56-game schedule will feature 100 percent intradivisional play, meaning the teams in the East, Central, and West divisions will play their divisional foes eight times each, while the North will play one another nine to 10 times.
From there, the top four teams in each division will advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
According to the NHL’s release, the current plan is to play games in the home arenas of the participating teams, though the understanding is that most arenas will not, at least at the start of the season, be able to host fans. (The league played the entire summer restart without fans in attendance.) The league is also prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary based on local regulations in regards to public health issues.