The National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association have agreed to play a 56-game season beginning on January 13, 2021. The NHL’s main goal of the 2021 season is to play a complete season, award a champion and get back to a normal, full schedule for 2021-22.
Although each team’s schedule has not been released yet, some important dates are still known. Obviously, opening night will be January 13. The NHL trade deadline will be on April 12 and the regular season will end on May 8. The last possible day of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning a possible Finals Game Seven, would be July 15. The Seattle Kraken expansion draft will be held on July 21 and will be followed by the first-year player draft on July 23-24. Finally, free agency will begin on July 28.
Dates are not the only thing the NHL released yesterday. There will be four new divisions for the 2021 season. These divisions will be implemented for only this season. The new alignment is due to both travel restrictions between the United States and Canada and an effort to reduce travel within the U.S. by grouping teams together geographically.
The four division will be called the north, central, east and west.
North: Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver
Central: Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida
East: Boston, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo and Pittsburgh
West: San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vegas, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis
This is how the divisions stack up on a map:
Teams will only play inside their own division this season. Teams in the east, west and central divisions will play each team eight times. Teams in the north division will play each other nine or 10 times.
Because of the travel restrictions, the playoff formatting will be a little different this season. The top four finishers in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rounds one and two will be played inside each division, 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3. After the second round, the four teams who remain will be re-seeded by regular season points and matched-up in the semifinals. There are no conferences this season, so it is possible for two teams from the normal Eastern or Western Conferences to meet in the Stanley Cup Finals.