The NHL 2021 Season is here. They’re back. It was announced this week that the NHL will begin the 2021 season in earnest next month on January 13th. This season will be shortened to 56 games. But wait! There’s more. There are four new divisions. Gone are the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific divisions. At least for this upcoming season we will have directional divisions. The North, South, East, and West. Clearly, this will be a whole new situation for the players, the teams, and the fans. Once the league made this announcement, a flurry of questions exploded.
A couple days after the statement saying that the season was going to start, the NHL released the schedule of critical dates answering some questions. We now know training camp for the seven non-playoff teams begins on New Year’s Eve. The 24 Bubble Playoff teams begin their camps four days later. After training camp ends, there will be no pre-season games as the regular season starts on January 13th.
There are other important dates like the trading deadline (April 12) and the date the season ends (May 8). Let’s not forget the Stanley Cup Playoffs are tentatively scheduled to begin on May 11th and should end by July 9th. The league has set basic health and safety protocols. There are also guidelines for all team personnel conduct during both home games and road games. Players did have the right to opt out of the season.
Covid testing will be done daily on all coaches and players once training camps open through the first four weeks of the season. At that point, the league will decide how to proceed with testing. Attendance will be primarily determined by teams and local or state mandates.
This season will be distinct primarily because of the divisional change. The North Division will consist of the seven Canadian teams. Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. In the West Division, Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, and Vegas.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the newly formed Central Division. Along with Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, and Nashville. The Final Division is the East. Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, both New York teams, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington.
Teams will only play the other teams within their division. For the three divisions of American city teams, divisions contain eight teams. So each team plays all the other teams eight times each. For the Canadian Division, there are only seven teams so each team will play the others either nine or 10 times. What the new division names might lack in style, they more than make up for it in potential intrigue.
Team of Rivals
The top four teams in each division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since every regular season game will be a divisional game, every game is a potential four point swing. It’s the same teams game in and game out. Say what you want, this format will develop some divisional rivalries pretty fast.
For the East, six of the eight teams are familiar foes from the Metropolitan Division. Of the four new divisions, the East has the most teams from a previous year’s division. The West has five teams from the Pacific Division and three from the old Central Division. This season’s Central Division has three teams from the Atlantic, including the Lightning and three from the old Central.
In the North, it is all seven teams that call Canada home. Three from the Atlantic, three from the Pacific and one team from the old Central. If you are not thoroughly confused at this point, then I am not doing my job.
In a season with only 56 games it is challenging to develop some good old fashioned hate. Though with the baseball type scheduling of two or more games within a day or two between the same teams will ignite potential rivalries.
Something Completely Different
Before the season begins, we should become aware of a word that may get overused this season – Fluid. There are so many things that may or may not happen during this uncommon season. We, as fans, need to understand that much like the NFL and MLB changes in schedule or attendance will be fluid.
If a team or a city experiences Covid related issues, games will need to be rescheduled. Teams may stop allowing fans into the arenas. It’ll be a season we haven’t seen before. Hopefully, we’ll never see another season like this.
Despite all the changes, some things are rock solid. For one, the Lightning are the Stanley Cup Champions. The team will raise the Cup banner on January 13th. They play (let me try this for size) their division rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Heck, the Lightning even get to play the team they just beat in the Cup Final in September a full eight games. Normally, the two Stanley Cup participants only play two games in 82 following their Cup appearance. Not only will the Lightning play the Dallas Stars in eight regular season games but could be playoff opponents in the postseason,
It’ll be different, it’ll be crazy at times and it’ll be the NHL 2021 Season. They’re Back!
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