- The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association have agreed on many logistics for the upcoming 2020-21 season.
- Items agreed upon include season length, start/finish dates, realigned divisions, training camps, preseason, and playoff format
- Hurdles remain moving forward as we await the official schedule as well as health and safety protocols to be announced in the coming days
Buckle up, hockey fans.
The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association reached an agreement Sunday on much of the framework on what the 2020-21 season will look like with many key items having been part of that agreement.
“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. “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 Donald Fehr, for working cooperatively with us to get our League back on the ice.”
For his part, Fehr has this to say:
“The players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also exciting for the fans and players alike,” Fehr said. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much need entertainment as the players return to the ice.”
Now for some 2020-21 season details.
Breaking Down the 2020-21 NHL Season
As was widely reported not too long ago, the NHL and the players are targeting a Jan. 13 start to the NHL regular season. With the new announcement, we now know that May 8 is the target finish date while the reported 56-game schedule is indeed the number the parties agreed to on Sunday.
Training Camps to Begin Jan. 3
For the 24 teams that qualified for the expanded postseason in 2019-20, training camps are schedule to open on Jan. 3, allowing for a 10-day camp. However, for the seven clubs that did not make the playoffs a season ago, training camps are permitted to open as early as Dec. 31.
Those seven clubs will not have played NHL games in about 10 months since the NHL paused its season on March 12, so the league is offering them a few more days of work given the lengthy layoff.
Given the tight window between the opening of training camps and the Jan. 13 regular-season target start date, there will be no preseason games played.
The league didn’t release a formal answer to this question, but the tentative plan is for teams to play their home games in their own building with the understanding that most arenas will not be permitted to admit fans, at least initially.
Prevailing conditions could change the plan as the season moves along, however, while the League is prepared to play games at one or more neutral sites per division if necessary.
Yours truly has been all over the league’s realignment plan as I’ve already went ahead and ranked the new divisions and offered up three teams that are set to benefit from the league’s temporary realignment for the 2020-21 campaign.
That said, those pieces were both based on the reported realigned divisions. With the new announcement, we have confirmed divisions with some tweaks from previous reports. Here’s the new plan.
Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
Of course, here we have the all-Canadian Division given the travel restrictions and non-essential border closure between Canada and the United States.
Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
The east division is essentially the Metropolitan Division 2.0. Gone are the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets and in are the Bruins and Sabres from the Atlantic.
Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Central contains the biggest mashup of clubs from the traditional format. We have teams from three former divisions here while it appears to be a free-for-all for second place behind the defending Cup-champion Lightning.
Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights
The Avalanche, Wild and Blues swing from the Central to the Pacific to form the west division alongside five clubs from the Pacific.
Play will be strictly limited to intradivision games this season, with each team in the east, central and west playing every teams in its division eight times while the north division will feature nine to 10 matchup against every other opponent within the division.
The league will once again send 16 teams to the playoffs this season in the form of the top four teams from each division.
The first two playoff rounds will stay intradivision, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 and 3 seeds facing off in the first round followed by another intradivisional, second-round matchup within the division as well.
The four teams that advance to the Semifinal Round will be seeded by their point total in the regular season, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 4 aeed in one series and the No. 2 seed facing the No. 3 seed in the other.
While the framework is here, hurdles remain.
The NHL and NHLPA are still hoping to find common ground in short order with the five provincial health authorities who have jurisdiction on whether NHL games can be played in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.
While a group call took place on Saturday between the league, the players and the health authorities, an agreement has not been reached as this appears to be the single-hottest-button topic left on the board.