The tentative agreement the NHL and NHLPA reached Friday on a 56-game season has now become an official season, which will begin Jan. 13 and run through May 8 ahead of the playoffs. The NHL board of governors approved that plan Sunday:
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 20, 2020
It’s notable that for the moment at least, this includes an all-Canadian “North” division. At the moment, it’s still not clear if those teams will be able to play their games in Canada even without fans. But if that doesn’t work out, we may see them relocated to the U.S. and yet still playing each other. This whole plan is for a season played only within each division, which is a significant change from the NHL’s past practices.
And there are challenges for other teams as well. While this schedule contemplates playing in home arenas, many of those arenas may be without fans. And as per Stephen Whyno of The Associated Press, this also means that all games this year through the second round of the playoffs will be within divisions:
The season will be highly unusual in at least one respect: There will be four divisions — North, South, East and West — and all play will be within them through the first two rounds of the playoffs to minimize travel and the potential for the coronavirus to disrupt the season. The North Division contains only the seven Canadian teams.
“It is the current plan to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will not, at least in the initial part of the season, be able to host fans,” the NHL said.
So it’s going to be a highly unusual 2021 season (really, a 2020-2021 season, but one not beginning until 2021). We’ll see how it all works out, both for the NHL and for their national TV broadcasters (NBC in the U.S., Sportsnet in Canada).