NHL sets parameters, guidelines ahead of Jan. 13 start

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

After the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on the parameters of the 2021 season, the league announced its major dates, divisions, and protocols for the campaign on Sunday, confirming hockey’s return next month. 

A 56-game season will begin on Jan. 13 with a geographically-driven schedule and divisional layout set forth to maintain strict COVID-19 protocols. 

The league will be split up into four divisions: One exclusively-Canadian division and three United States-based groups of eight, which is expected to look like this:

North Division

  • Calgary Flames
  • Edmonton Oilers
  • Montreal Canadiens
  • Ottawa Senators
  • Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • Winnipeg Jets

East Division

  • Boston Bruins
  • Buffalo Sabres
  • New Jersey Devils
  • New York Islanders
  • New York Rangers
  • Philadelphia Flyers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins 
  • Washington Capitals

Central Division

  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Dallas Stars
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Florida Panthers
  • Nashville Predators
  • Tampa Bay Lightning

West Division

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

Along with the usual 23-man roster, which will have an $81.5 million salary cap this year, a four-to-six-man taxi squad will be implemented to ensure depth if players were to test positive for the virus. Teams will be required to carry at least three goaltenders at all times.

Teams will only play their divisional opponents this season to cut down on travel amid the pandemic and for the first time since using the format between 1982-1993, the NHL will be bringing back the divisional playoff structure when the regular season ends on May 8.

The top four teams in each division will make the playoffs with each group producing a champion that will play in the Stanley Cup semifinals. 

As it stands, teams will play home games in their respective arenas, eliminating the return of the bubble or hub-city system that the league used in Toronto and Edmonton to finish out the 2019-20 season after a four-month layoff. 

However, there has been some trouble in the Canadian division as the province of British Columbia — the home of the Vancouver Canucks — has barred teams from traveling into the area. That means we could see the Canucks playing their home games in another Canadian city outside the province.

The league has set forth strict travel protocols as the virus is spiking yet again. Visiting players will be limited to going to the rink, practice rink, and team hotel. 

Guests will not be allowed in the hotel rooms while the players will not be allowed to utilize the hotel gyms or housekeeping. They will be assigned seats on buses and planes while traveling. 

Players will have the option to opt-out of the season with non-playoff teams having a deadline of Dec. 24 while playoff teams must have all decisions in by Dec. 27.

Other notable dates include an April 12 trade deadline and the July 21 expansion draft in which the Seattle Kraken will build their inaugural roster. The NHL Draft will take place just two days later before free agency begins on July 28.