The National Hockey League and NHL Players Association finally hammered out the final details regarding the 2021 season on Sunday.
A shortened 56-game season will begin on Jan. 13 and end May 8 with an April 12 trade deadline. Training camps beginning on Jan. 3 and no preseason games will be played. The seven teams that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup qualifying series may open their training camps as early as Dec. 31.
Currently, games will be played in teams’ home arenas with no fans allowed to attend. The league stated it would be willing to make necessary changes to attendance policies if permitted as the season progresses and neutral-site games will be considered if necessary.
"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," NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said in a 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."
There will be four new divisions, organized by geographic region. The Nashville Predators will remain in the Central, where they are joined by the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
All games will be played within the new division to limit travel for all teams, which means Nashville will not play any games against regular Central rivals Winnipeg, Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis. Teams in the East, Central and West will play one another eight times. The North Division, which includes all of the Canadian teams, will play each other up to 10 times.
The revamped Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature 16 teams competing in a best-of-seven series that will run through mid-July, setting the table for the 2021-22 season to begin on a normal time frame. The top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs and will play a traditional No. 1 vs. No. 4, No. 2 vs. No. 3 format. Once the semifinal round begins, teams will be reseeded according to their regular-season point totals.
"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,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
With the new schedule, the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken will be July 21, the NHL Draft will be held July 23-24 and free agency will begin on July 28.
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