NHL to be back in rink with abridged season


NHL season 2020-2021 Image: BB&T Center

The National Hockey League (NHL) has confirmed plans to begin a 56-game regular season schedule on January 13th, 2021, with teams set to play at their home arenas.

The 56-game regular season is significantly shorter than the usual NHL campaign, which comprises 82 games. No pre-season games will be played ahead of the start of the regular season in mid-January.

The National Hockey League (NHL) is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The NHL is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.

The regular season will conclude on May 8th, with the Stanley Cup playoffs to feature 16 teams in the traditional best-of-seven, four-round format and conclude around mid-July. The 2021-22 seasons would then begin as ‘normal’ in October next year.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are an elimination tournament in the NHL consisting of four rounds of best-of-seven series to determine the league champion and the winner of the Stanley Cup. Eight teams from each of the two conferences qualify for the playoffs based on regular season points total.

The NHL announced the schedule on December 20th along with the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA). Health and safety protocols, transition rules and the fixture schedule will be released in the coming days.

The NHLPA is the labor union for the group of professional hockey players who are under Standard Player Contracts to the 31-member clubs in the NHL located in the United States and Canada.

The league and the NHLPA have come to an agreement on key dates and framework for the 2021 season, including scheduling, temporary realignment and COVID-19 protocols, among the scheduling highlights is that teams will only play other clubs in their division during the regular season.

The 2019-20 NHL seasons was suspended in March due to COVID-19 which is still continuing in a raging form almost the world over, with the campaign eventually being concluded in August and September. All games were held within centralized hubs in the Canadian cities of Toronto and Edmonton, but the initial plan is for teams to play at their home arenas next season.

In reaching an agreement on the format of the next season, the NHL and NHLPA determined that the ongoing closure of the US-Canada border required “realignment”. The schedule for next season will seek to minimize team travel as much as possible by shifting to exclusively interdivisional play (North, West, Central and East).

Teams in the East, Central and West divisions will play every other team eight times. Each team in the North Division, which will only feature the league’s seven Canadian franchises, will play each other nine or 10 times. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The NHL informed that most arenas will not be able to greet fans during the initial part of the season. The league would be prepared to play games in one or more neutral-site venues per division should the situation warrant.

Observed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, “The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 seasons, especially since the ‘Return to Play’ in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion. 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 above news comes following a lengthy negotiation process in which the NHL and NHLPA found themselves at a stalemate over fiscal matters. After initially targeting a December 1st start date, the league and players’ association pushed back the proposed dates as they continued to battle over concessions.

The two sides reached an agreement on a financial arrangement in July, but the owners informed the players that they were seeking additional concessions because of the state of the pandemic. The players stuck to their guns and, this week, the two sides moved forward with the initial financial agreement.

Over the course of the NHL’s return to play, the league conducted 33,174 COVID-19 tests in the two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton) and registered zero positive cases.

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