The NHL officially announced that the league will face off for the 2020/21 season on January 13th with each of the 31 clubs playing a condensed schedule of 56 games which ends on May 8th. The league and NHL Players’ Association came to an agreement and made the announcement on Dec. 20th and said the schedule and safety protocols will soon be released.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated that there are plenty of challenges ahead and the league will continue to prioritize the safety and health of all participants during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Training camps will begin on Jan. 3rd with no preseason contests being scheduled. However the seven clubs which didn’t participate in the 24-team 2019/20 postseason this summer will be allowed to open training camps on Dec. 31st.
The 31 teams will be realigned into four divisions with the top four teams in each division making the playoffs. Each division will then hold best-of-seven playoff series with the first-place team playing the fourth and the second-place team meeting the third-place side to determine a division winner. The four division winners will then play off in two semifinal series for the Stanley Cup with the teams being seeded on points and the first playing the fourth with the second playing the third. The postseason is expected to wrap up in mid-July with the 2021/22 NHL season then returning to normal by beginning in October as usual.
With the American-Canadian border still supposedly closed and quarantine rules still in place, the seven Canadian teams will make up one division with the American-based teams making up the other three. This allows all teams to play the regular season in their own country. In addition, teams will only play other squads within their own division to reduce travel. The clubs in the East, West and Central Divisions will play each other eight times with the Canadian squads in the North Division playing each other nine or 10 times each.
Each team is expected to play its home games in their own arena with no fans in attendance. This could eventually change though depending on regional rules and regulations regarding fans. In addition, if local rules prohibit teams from playing in their own home rinks, they may have to play games at a neutral site. For example, if the Vancouver Canucks don’t receive permission to play in British Columbia, the club may need to play it’s home contests elsewhere.
The East Division will consist of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals with the Central Division being made up of the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The West Division will feature the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights while the North Division will see the Canadian teams the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets playing each other. This is the first time the NHL has featured an Canada division since the 1937/38 campaign.