NHL Hockey Is Back for 2021!
By: Steven Marsh
Hockey fans got a nice early Christmas present as the NHL and NHL Players Association have reached a deal on a plan to start the 2020-21 NHL season.
“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. 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.’” -Commissioner Gary Bettman
The regular season will begin on January 13th, 2021 and will consist of 56-games, 26 less than the normal 82-game season. The regular season will end May 8th. As for when training camps will begin, those are scheduled to start on January 3rd. For the teams that didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the return to play for the end of the 2019-20 season, they will begin formal training camp on December 31st.
The next question is how will the divisions line up? Those had to be shuffled around this season to account for the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel between the U.S and Canada, as well as to reduce the amount of travel in the league as a whole. That will result in three divisions of eight teams for the teams based in the States. The seven Canadian teams will all be in one division. Teams will only play within their division, which means each team will be playing their opponents at least seven times each.
As far as the Golden Knights, Coyotes and Avalanche are concerned, the three NHL teams we focus on at Ice Time Hockey SW, they will all be in the same division for this season. As well as the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Wild and Blues. They will be known as the West division.
The other divisions will be known as the Central, East, and North, with the latter one being the all-Canadian division.
How many teams will qualify? The top four teams from each division will qualify for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will battle each other in the first two rounds with #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3. Each round will be a best-of-seven series. The last team remaining from each division will then battle in the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals with regular season records determining matchups.
Last thing is an important one, will fans be allowed to attend games? Sounds like the NHL will not have one blanket policy about whether fans can attend or not. Instead, leaving it up to each team’s city and state health and government officials, and whether they deem it safe to hold fans and if so, at what capacity. For example, games in California and Las Vegas will likely be with no fans at the beginning, while places like Florida, Texas and Arizona may be able to have a limited number of fans right from the beginning of the season.
So, as much as the Medieval Maniacs would love to see their team play in person at the Fortress (T-Mobile Arena), that will likely not occur for a while until Covid-19 numbers are at such a manageable level that they get the okay from health and state officials. As the vaccines continue to become more available in the coming months, the hope would be by the time the playoffs take place beginning in May, a good chuck of seats would be able to be filled in whatever arenas would be involved in the playoffs. We can hope at least.
One thing we are all going to have to accept and get used to is the need to be flexible and understanding that as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, adjustments may need to be made as we go along. But, we can rest assure the NHL is going to do all they can to ensure they can get through this season and see a Stanley Cup champion crowned fairly in July, but not at the cost of health and safety of everyone involved. We just need to understand the path there may indeed be rocky and unpredictable at times. I’m just excited we have hockey on the horizon. Let’s just cross the fingers that this season will proceed. Because it is sure to be an unforgettable one in so many ways.
In the meantime, let’s continue to wear our masks, wash our hands, socially distance, and be smart about the activities we do, so to limit exposure to Covid-19 to ourselves and others.
And finally…a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!