Circle Jan. 13 on your calendars, NHL fans.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association made official what was rumored earlier this weekend Sunday, when they announced an agreement on a 56-game regular season that’ll start Jan. 13 and end May 8.
The season had been on hold because of ongoing concerns with the coronavirus pandemic that paused last season from March until August. The last NHL game played after the league returned to play was Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sept. 28, a Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 win.
Although the NHL’s return to play included a play-in round of playoffs, the plan for this season is a traditional 16-team, best-of-seven, four-round tournament that could last until mid-July. The hope is that the NHL will be able to return to its regular calendar at the conclusion of this season plus the 2021 NHL Draft.
“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.”
Because of the unpredictability of the ongoing pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA both said that there will be flexibility in the weeks ahead to make sure the return of the league to action complies with local, national and health authorities.
Along those lines, the divisional alignment for the 2020-21 season, but subject to change, will feature four divisions, including one that consists of just the seven Canadian teams in the North Division.
The other divisions will be as follows:
West: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas;
Central: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay;
East: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington;
Teams will play exclusively within their own divisions. Each team in the East, Central and West will face the other seven teams eight times; teams in the North will play each of the other teams in nine or 10 times.
The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Training camps are scheduled to open Jan. 3 for teams that participated when the league returned to play over the summer. The seven teams that have been off since March can open their camps Dec. 31.
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