Will end May 8, with 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs to follow; deal includes Canada division
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association reached an agreement Sunday to play a 56-game regular season starting Jan. 13, 2021, and ending May 8.
“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. “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.”
Formal training camps will begin Jan. 3. There will be no preseason games. The seven teams that did not participate in the 2019-20 Return to Play will be permitted to open their camps as early as Dec. 31.
The 2020-21 season has been delayed due to continuing concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Under the agreement, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature 16 teams in a best-of-7, four-round format and conclude around mid-July with the plan of returning to a normal hockey calendar for the 2021-22 season (regular season beginning in October). The NHL and NHLPA will release the 2020-21 schedule for each team, health and safety protocols, transition rules and a calendar of critical dates in the coming days.
Games will be within realigned divisions only, including a division of the seven teams based in Canada. In reaching an agreement on the format for the 2020-21 season, the NHL and NHLPA determined that the ongoing closure of the United States-Canada border required realignment and also sought to minimize travel as much as possible by shifting to exclusively intradivisional play.
Each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play every other team in its division eight times, and each team in the North Division (Canada teams) will play every other team in its division nine or 10 times.
The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs. The first two rounds will be intradivisional, with the first-place team playing the fourth-place team and the second-place team facing the third-place team in the first round. The four teams that advance from the second round to the Semifinal Round will be seeded by their points total in the regular season (No. 1 vs. No. 4; No. 2 vs. No. 3).
The current plan is to play games in teams’ home arenas with the understanding that fans will not be permitted to attend in most, at least in the initial part of the season. But depending on prevailing conditions, the NHL will be prepared to play games in one or more neutral venues per division should it become necessary.
The NHL and NHLPA have had to adjust to government regulations at all levels, from restrictions at the Canada-United States border to local limits on gatherings, and the coronavirus situation in each of the markets for the 31 NHL teams. The agreement includes health and safety protocols.
The last game of last season was played Sept. 28, when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“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. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much-needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”