To minimize travel and conform to Canadian restrictions, NHL games will be within four realigned divisions, including a division of the seven Canadian teams. Each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play every other team in its division eight times in the 2020-2021 NHL season, and each team in the North Division (Canada teams) will play every other team in its division nine or 10 times.
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 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 via press release. “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.
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. 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).
Here are the divisional alignments:
The Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will play in the East Division.
The Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning will compete in the Central Division.
The Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights will be in the West Division.
The Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets will play in the North Division.