The National Hockey League returns on Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly.  This in-state rivalry is the first of five games on Wednesday, and these games will start up a 2021 season that is full of intrigue and mystery, but is sure to be an entertaining one. 

The season will consist of 56 games, and one big shake-up this season is the realignment of the divisions.  To ensure less travel, as well as no travel across the United States–Canada border during the season, one division will consist solely of the league’s Canadien teams.  Here is what the new divisions look like:

North: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets

East: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals

Central: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning

West: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights

Within the 56-game schedule, teams will only play within their divisions.  Each team in the East, Central, and West divisions will play every other team in their division eight times, while the teams in the North division will play every other team in their division nine or ten times (The North has seven teams as opposed eight in all other divisions).

In another effort to limit travel, teams will often play the same opponent multiple times in a row.  These games could be on back-to-back nights, or with a day off in-between.

After electing to finish last season in two “bubbles” in Edmonton and Toronto, NHL action will be back in home arenas this season.  The league has left it up to the individual teams whether or not fans will be allowed to attend games.

As of now, four of the NHL’s 31 clubs have stated they plan on having fans in some capacity:

I think this is great news.  It will be nice to have games back in home arenas, and I hope that more and more fans will be allowed to attend as the season goes on.

The playoffs will go back to the traditional 16-team format with the winner of a best-of-seven series advancing to the next round.  However, because of the divisional realignment, the top four teams in each division that qualify for the playoffs will be placed into divisional brackets for the first two rounds of the playoffs (No.1 seed vs. No. 4 seed, No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed).

After four teams advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals, or Conference Final in a normal year, seeding will depend upon regular season point totals, with the No. 1 vs. No. 4 seed and No. 2 vs. No. 3 seed.

It will be interesting to watch this unfold, because this means that in 2021, the Stanley Cup could be decided between two teams who are normally in the same conference during a traditional season. That could make for some intriguing storylines and bring added heat to long rivalries.

One of the cooler things to look forward to this season will be the Lake Tahoe games. The NHL announced that two outdoor games will be played in Lake Tahoe, Nevada during the upcoming season. On February 20, the Avalanche will take on the Golden Knights, and the next day on February 21, the Bruins will play the Flyers. These two games will bring the total number of outdoor games in the NHL to 23 since 2003. It should be an awesome event.

The Stanley Cup futures on DraftKings are as follows: Avalanche +650, Lightning +750, Golden Knights +800, Maple Leafs +1100, Bruins +1500. I am a Red Wings fan, and they won’t be anywhere close to that Cup, but they are +30000 if you’re feeling dangerous.

Let’s do that hockey.

@stadium_times

Title Photo: NHL.com

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