National Hockey League returning January 13 with 56-game schedule, realigned divisions

National Hockey League returning January 13 with 56-game schedule, realigned divisions

A 56-game regular season schedule was agreed upon Sunday, according to a joint release from the NHL and the National Hockey League Players Association.

The league's board of governors voted to approve the agreement backed by the NHL Players' Union Executive Board Friday night.

The agreement includes a 16-team post-season with a traditional four rounds of best-of-seven contests that will wrap up in the middle of July.

Teams will play games exclusively against other franchises in their division, with the regular season set to run until 8th May. Teams will play only opponents in the same division as itself.

Coaches will be required to wear masks at all times during the 2020-21 season, including on the bench during games, and except for instances of physical exertion on the ice or when they are eating or drinking.

To accommodate this plan, the NHL's 31 teams will be split into four divisions - North, West, Central and West - including a seven-team, all-Canadian division.

A tweak to the NHL's off-side rule will begin in 2021, with a player entering the offensive zone no longer having to remain in contact with the blue line as the puck enters the attacking area. In the three USA divisions, teams will play eight times against each other.

The sense is Ontario health officials will eventually come around to allow the Leafs and Senators to play at home, but there are no guarantees.

The 2019-2020 season was suspended in March following the outbreak of coronavirus and the Stanley Cup - which was scheduled to begin in April - did not take place until August. "During these troubled times, we hope that National Hockey League games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice". The Sabres will be facing the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals eight times each.

The NHL wants to play games in the home arenas of participating teams, but is prepared to hold them in one or more "neutral-site" venues per division if necessary. The Stanley Cup will be awarded in mid-July, with the league planning to return to its normal calendar for the 2021-22 season.

Health and safety protocols will be announced in the coming days.

Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup with victory over Dallas Stars in late September.

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