Deal reached to start 2020-21 NHL season in January

National Hockey League logo. Courtesy NHL.com.

NHL action will return in the new year with 56 regular-season games, starting on January 13, 2021.

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) announced an agreement on Sunday that would see the 2020-2021 regular-season schedule start next month and conclude on May 8.

Thirty-one NHL teams will be realigned in four new divisions for this season, according to a release from the NHL. The seven Canadian NHL teams will play in the North Division.

“As part of the agreement, the Stanley Cup Playoffs would feature 16 teams in the traditional best-of-seven, 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),” read a release from the NHLPA.

Transition rules as well as health and safety protocols are expected to be released soon.

“Given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHLPA and the NHL intend to be flexible and adaptable in their approach during the coming weeks to ensure compliance with directives from both local and national governmental and health authorities focusing on the health and safety of the players, other game-related personnel and the communities in which we play,” read the NHLPA release.

The 2019-2020 regular season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The return to play involved the use of hub cities to limit the possible spread of COVID-19.

“It is the current plan to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will not, at least in the initial part of the season, be able to host fans,” read a release from the NHL. “However, depending on prevailing conditions both in local markets and across North America, the League will be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.”

Canadian NHL teams would need approval from health and government officials in order to play at their home arenas, which has been the case with other sports leagues.

Formal training camps will start on January 3, 2021, however, there will be no pre-season games.