While there are still some wrinkles to iron out, the NHL is seemingly back. With the announcement between the league and Players Association agreeing to a set schedule of games played, hockey fans can expect puck drop in the new year.
The league officially announced that on January 13, a 56-game schedule will take place. The NHL is hoping that all games will be played in the home teams’ respective arena, but are prepared for additional challenges like creating a division bubble.
Unlike the Toronto and Edmonton bubble for the NHL playoffs, a potential bubble for next season would include just the teams from the respective divisions
The on-ice action will be the same, but the optics of the NHL and its divisions will be wildly different. One of the major changes is the announcement that the NHL will have a Canadian division, featuring all seven teams from the country of Canada.
With this move, teams from the Western Conference and Eastern Conference will intertwine. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be interdivisional. The four teams that advance to the Semifinal Round will be seeded by their point totals in the regular season.
In the West Division, the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights will all play.
One of the more interesting divisions is the Central Division, as it features teams from both the Eastern and Western conferences.
The Central division will include the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rounding out the new divisions is the East division, featuring the likes of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
There is still a major hurdle for the Canadian teams. According to sources, certain provides haven’t signed off on allowing teams from other provinces to enter their city. Right now, it appears as if Ontario (Ottawa, Toronto) and British Columbia (Vancouver) have not signed off, which means these teams could be forced to play their games inside of a bubble.
The usual quest for Lord Stanley is a marathon, but this season will be a sprint. With training camps set to open in two weeks, the wheels are in motion to get the season underway. The 56-game schedule will be crammed into 116 days – which is nearly one game for every two days.
It will be interesting to see how the volume of games affects the players, as well as the proposed schedule that would see teams face their opponents in sets, similar to Major League Baseball.
Some arenas are expected to allow fans. Dallas, Florida, and Tampa Bay are currently permitted to allow fans at a limited capacity.
Barring any sudden changes, puck drop is scheduled for January 13. In the coming days, we should see finalized details from the league and players’ association.