NHL, NHLPA Officially Announce Plans for 2020-21 Season
Hockey is officially back. After weeks of negotiations and planning to conduct the 2020-21 season in the midst of a pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA officially announced their plans for the season on Sunday evening.
The 2020-21 regular season is set to begin on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, and will conclude on May 8. Each team will be scheduled to play 56 games. Training camps will start on Thursday, Dec. 31 for the seven non-playoff teams from the return to play this summer. The 24 teams that did make the playoffs in return to play, including the Flyers, will open training camp on Sunday, Jan. 3. There will also be no preseason games.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature 16 teams in the traditional four-round, best-of-seven format with the expectation to conclude by mid-July. This would ensure that the NHL would be on track to return to a “normal” hockey calendar starting in October for the 2021-22 season.
“Given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHLPA and the NHL intend to be flexible and adaptable in their approach during the coming weeks to ensure compliance with directives from both local and national governmental and health authorities focusing on the health and safety of the players, other game-related personnel and the communities in which we play,” the official press release stated. “The priority will continue to be focused on the health and safety of our fans and Players and Club, League, NHLPA and arena personnel.”
“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 the release. “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 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 in the release. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”
Another confirmed element of the agreement is the realignment of divisions and limited travel, with games strictly taking place between divisional opponents. Much of this is the result of the ongoing closure of the US-Canada border.
The Flyers will be among eight teams in the East division, joining the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
In addition to the East division, there will be an all-Canadian North division featuring Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg. The Central division will feature Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville and Tampa Bay. The West division will include Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Jose and Vegas.
Each team in the East, Central and West division will face one another eight times. The North division will face the remaining six opponents nine or 10 times each.
In terms of location, games are anticipated to be played in each team’s home arena. The NHL acknowledge in the agreement that there will be varying restrictions on which teams can use their home arenas for games and welcome limited or no fans into the venue. In cases where conditions may not allow for even limited travel, the NHL is going to be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division if necessary.
For the playoffs, the top four teams from each division will qualify. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be intradivisional, meaning the No. 1 seed in the division will face the No. 4 and the No. 2 seed will face the No. 3 seed. The four teams that advance from the first two rounds to the Semifinal Round will be seeded by regular-season points total, again with No. 1 facing No. 4 and No. 2 facing No. 3. The winners of each series will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
While there are still some final details to work out, including the announcement of a schedule in the coming days, and everything within this structure for the season is subject to change, hockey will be returning in a matter of days. Camp will open for the Flyers in just less than two weeks, and the regular season will be upon us just three weeks from Wednesday.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.