NEW YORK – The news of it leaked a couple of days ago, getting hockey fans excited about the prospect of the National Hockey League returning sooner than later.
On Sunday, it officially became reality, as the NHL has set the path to return to play for a shortened 2021 season.
It’s going to start on January 13th, with training camp opening up ten days earlier on January 3rd. This is about two weeks later than the league initially wanted after commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would like to start games on New Year’s Day.
When the teams do start play, they’ll do so within four divisions that have been formed specifically for this season. The Blackhawks find themselves in the Central Division with a few familiar foes and a few new ones, along with the renewal of a great rivalry.
The Detroit Red Wings are back in the division after leaving for the Eastern Conference prior to the 2013-2014 season. The Original Six rivals met in a memorable seven-game playoff series before changing conferences in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs and only met twice a year since then.
Now the rivals will play eight times as they will with all of their division opponents, with the regular season concluding by May 8th. In their history, the teams have met 802 times in the regular and postseason, with the Red Wings holding the advantage at 407–314–84–15 since it began in 1926.
At the same time, however, the Blackhawks will say goodbye to the Blues, who will leave to play in the newly formed West Division for the rest of this season. Unless each advances to the NHL Final Four, they will not play until next season.
Also a throwback is the way the playoffs will be structured, with the first two rounds taking place inside each division. The top four teams in each will advance to the playoffs and conduct division semifinals and finals, with the winner making the Stanley Cup semifinals.
The playoffs are scheduled to end in mid-July, with the league calendar expected to return to normal for the 2021-2022 season.