Today, the NHL and NHLPA announced that an agreement had been reached to commence with a 56-game 2020-21 regular season set to begin on January 13, after the new year.
Former Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti wrote on NHL.com today about some features of the new season that will be on display in mid-January when the COVID-19-delayed season finally gets under way.
His first point on the new season in his article is that training camps will open staggered. Camps for the teams that did not qualify for last year’s playoffs: the Devils, along with the Ducks, Sabres, Red Wings, Kings, Senators and Sharks, will open on December 31. The 24 remaining teams that did make last year’s Stanley Cup postseason party will open camps on January 3.
In addition, although there will be training camps, there will not be any preseason games. Things are too condensed to allow for the annual preseason tune-ups. We will go directly from camp to the regular season.
Gulitti next addressed when the season would end. He said that the regular season will come to a close on May 8. As for the Stanley Cup Playoffs? They be the regular format this year (i.e. no play-in round) and all four rounds will be back to a best-of-seven format. Gulitti also mentioned that a Stanley Cup champion will be crowned no later than mid-July and that the league is planning to return “to a normal hockey calendar for the 2021-22 season.”
He next addressed when each team’s schedules will be announced as well as safety protocols due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said everything including schedules, “health and safety protocols, transition rules and critical dates” will be released “in the coming days.”
Gulitti did note that due to “the unpredictability of the pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA will be flexible with their approach in the coming weeks to comply with local and national governmental and health authorities and ensure the safety of the players, other game-related personnel and the communities where the League plays.”
And on that note: where will the games take place and will fans be in attendance? Gulitti said that, tentatively, the teams will play in their home arenas. “Most arenas,” he wrote, “will not be permitted to admit fans, at least initially.” As a contingency, the NHL will “play games at one or more neutral sites per division if necessary.” That will depend on “the conditions in local markets and across North America.”
Now on to the big one: realignment. There will be temporary realignment for the 2020-21 season, resulting in four new divisions. Games will be intradivsional due to the travel restrictions between the United States and Canada.
The new divisions will include the North Division (featuring the seven Canadians teams, the Flames, Oilers, Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Canucks and Jets). The other 24 US-based teams will compete in the East Division (the Devils, Bruins, Sabres, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals), the Central Division (the Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Panthers, Predators and Lightning) and the West Division (the Ducks, Coyotes, Avalanche, Kings, Wild, Sharks, Blues and Golden Knights).
Schedules will see the US division teams playing each team in their division eight times while the Canadian division teams will play each other nine or ten times, as there is an odd number of teams making up the division.
Playoffs? That will see “the top four teams in each division” qualify. For the first two rounds of the playoffs, teams will face other teams within their division (think 80s/early-90s-style with a “Patrick Division Playoff Champion” being crowned). The first-place team in the division will face the fourth place while second and third place will face each other in round one.
In the second round, teams will be reseeded by their total points in the regular season. Once again, the number one seed will play the number four seed a d two will face three.
This is definitely the most logical way to do a playoff format, second only to the NBA-style of one-through-eighth place in the conference making the playoffs. The goofy system that they have been using for the seasons just prior to the pandemic has got to go in my opinion.
Anyway, that this is great to see, with the NHL set to hit the ice for some real competition on January 13. We will be saving the date and cannot wait to get you some Devils game recaps. Coverage of the 2021 World Juniors will come first, of course, as a bit of an appetizer to the main course. See you later this week for that!