On Sunday, the NHL and NHLPA officially announced their agreement on plans to play a 56-game regular season, kicking off on 13 January and wrapping up on 8 May.
Playoffs are slated to conclude in mid-July and will revert to the traditional format of 16 qualifying teams and four best-of-seven rounds. Last season, when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars for the 2020 Stanley Cup, a 24-team format was used, including a play-in round.
NHL.com elaborated on the post-season format: “The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, with intradivisional play in the first two rounds (#1 vs. #4; #2 vs. #3). The four teams that advance to the semi-final round would be seeded by their regular-season points total, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 4 seed in one series and the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meeting in the other.”
Factoring in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the Canada-U.S. border, four new, temporary divisions have been created for this 2020-21 season To minimize travel, only intradivisional play will take place.
“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.”
The North Division features seven Canadian franchises, including the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Winnipeg Jets. (North Division teams will face one another nine or 10 times, while teams in the other three divisions will play one another eight times.)
The West Division includes the Anaheim Ducks, the Arizona Coyotes, the Colorado Avalanche, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota Wild, the San Jose Sharks, the St. Louis Blues, and the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Central Division includes the Carolina Hurricanes, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Dallas Stars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Florida Panthers, the Nashville Predators, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The East Division includes the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres, the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Washington Capitals.
Training camps start on 3 January. Last season’s seven non-playoff teams have the option of opening camp on 31 December.
“The players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting for the fans and players alike,” Fehr said. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much-needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”