While details still need to be sorted out within Canada about where each team will be able to play, we now know where the NHL hopes everyone plays when the puck drops for the 2020-21 season on Jan. 13.
The league released its full 56-game schedule for every team on Wednesday, and it’s all supposed to wrap up on Saturday, May 8, with the playoffs starting a few days later. There is a minimum of one game every night between the start and end of the season, and there will be more than that played on every night but four.
We know that the opening night plan is to feature five games: Toronto-Montreal, Edmonton-Vancouver, Colorado-St. Louis, Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, and Chicago-Tampa Bay, where the defending champion Lightning will raise their banner.
Every game this season will, of course, be played only within the realigned divisions, which are as follows:
East: Boston-Buffalo-New Jersey-NY Islanders-NY Rangers-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Washington
Central: Carolina-Chicago-Columbus-Detroit-Florida-Dallas-Nashville-Tampa Bay
West: Anaheim-Arizona-Colorado-Minnesota-Los Angeles-Vegas-San Jose-St. Louis
At the end of the regular season, the top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs. The first two rounds will be best-of-7 series to play out of your division, leaving one “champion” from each grouping. Those teams will be re-seeded from 1-4 based on regular season points, and then a best-of-7 semifinal will lead to a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final. The Eastern and Western Conferences are of no consequence this season.
The 2021 schedule is also unlike any we’ve seen before. Here are some things you should know about how it looks:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 22, 2020
THE ‘BASEBALL-STYLE’ SCHEDULE IS CONFIRMED
To limit travel between cities, when a visitor comes in they aren’t only there for one game. You’ll see a lot of two-game road trips now, but not necessarily on back-to-back nights. Having two games in three days will be a regular occurrence.
And, in fact, there are a number of situations where one team will fly into a city for a two-game series, then fly home and play that same team twice more for a four-game home-and-home.
This idea of a “baseball-style” schedule had been assumed for some time. In Major League Baseball, it is normal to play the same team three or four days in a row to get a 162-game season in over the summer. The NHL doesn’t have quite that much of a crunch, but has aligned the schedule in such a way that the same teams will play against one another for four games in a row on occasion. Anaheim and Los Angeles find themselves against each other five times in a row from April 20-May 1.
There are a few instances where the same teams will play each other three times in a row, and in the same destination. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs will host the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 4, 6 and 8, and Ottawa on Feb. 15, 17 and 18. Similarly, Vancouver will host Calgary on Feb. 11, 13 and 15, Montreal will host Edmonton on March 22, 24 and 26, and Calgary hosts Winnipeg on March 26, 27 and 29.
CANADIAN TEAMS FACING EACH OTHER 10 TIMES
In a 56-game schedule for a seven-team division, the games can’t completely be split evenly. Each team will matchup against four of its divisional rivals nine times, and will face the other two rivals 10 times.
The NHL did a great job making sure all the best rivalries are given to us the most.
Here is the breakdown of how often each Canadian Division team will play against one another:
The first all-Canadian division in NHL history is set to deliver more than triple the number of all-Canadian matchups versus the usual 82-game schedule (196 in 2020-21 vs. 58 scheduled in 2019-20).#NHLStats: https://t.co/hkOXa1arei pic.twitter.com/UVa2hnNkuJ
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 23, 2020
SAN JOSE’S LONG ROAD TRIP TO START THE SEASON
Due to local health regulations, the San Jose Sharks won’t be able to access SAP Center for the next while, and will host their training camp at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, Ariz. It’s too early to tell when they’d be allowed back into their home arena again, and the NHL built more time for that to get sorted into the Sharks’ schedule by starting them on an eight-game road trip.
But the won’t begin far from where they’re doing training camp, playing in Arizona against the Coyotes for the first two games. From there, the Sharks will go to St. Louis, Minnesota and Colorado — playing each of them twice — before their first home game shows up on Feb. 1 against Vegas.
In all, twelve of San Jose’s first 14 games are on the road, and their second home series isn’t scheduled until Feb. 13. Hopefully by either of those dates it will be safe enough to play in Santa Clara county. If not, though, the Sharks are considering backup plans.
“There’s a couple potential options that we’ve been exploring, just like we were exploring for training camp,” GM Doug Wilson said earlier this week. “Could be a hub city. Could be us playing in another NHL city for a while.”
The dreaded games on back-to-back days. In this compact schedule, fatigue will be a factor when you’re averaging one game roughly every other day. So each team’s back-to-back situation is of note, especially since it’ll be harder to start the same goalie for each one.
The Sharks lead the way with the most back-to-back situations, a total of 12 on the season. Edmonton and Ottawa have the most in the Canadian division with 11 each, while Vancouver has the least among the Canadian clubs with just seven. The fewest back-to-back situations of any team in the league are the six for Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.
Via Sportsnet Stats, here is the full breakdown of back-to-backs:
San Jose: 12
St. Louis: 10
Los Angeles: 10
NY Islanders: 8
New Jersey: 7
Tampa Bay: 6
NY Rangers: 6
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF GAMES ON LAST TWO SATURDAYS
In a 31-team league, the most games you can have on one day is, of course, 15. Over the course of this coming season, that doesn’t happen as much as you may think, but the two times we will get treated to max hockey land is right in the thick of playoff hunt.
If all goes according to plan, Saturday May 1 and 8 will be the only two days where 15 games will occur around the league. Those are the last two Saturdays of the regular season, and May 8 is the final day of the regular season.
Hockey Night in Canada was already circled on your calendar, but maybe circle these last two again and again. Playoff spots will be on the line and those last two Saturdays will include matchups like Toronto-Vancouver and Toronto-Montreal, Edmonton-Calgary on both days, Pittsburgh-Washington, Boston-NY Rangers, and Philadelphia-Washington.