Hockey will finally return in January


It’s back. Following a lot of negotiations, the NHL and NHLPA reached agreement for a 56-game season over the weekend. Right on the cusp of Winter, hockey is coming back. On Solstice Day, we can at least have the sport we love to look forward to. Four days until Christmas when the U20 World Junior Championship begins in Edmonton, the NHL will finally return in January.

As had been reported first by Pierre Lebrun, the two sides agreed to a January 3rd date for training camp with Jan. 13 the beginning of the abbreviated 2020-21 season. Well, really NHL ’21. Just like the EA Sports game we enjoy. I’m still a sucker for NHL ’94. It’s still hooked up on my old Sega Genesis. That’s my go to.

How are we feeling on this Monday afternoon in the Big Apple? Or in the Garden State? Or any city that has NHL hockey for that matter? Everyone’s excited. The wait has been long, but expected given the lack of revenue that’s expected. Without fans in arenas, it is much harder for all 31 teams to survive. Gate revenue and concessions along with merchandise are huge for hockey. They don’t have a great TV contract or huge advertising like the NFL or NBA. That’s why it took so long. There had to be a give and take. Without the players working it out with the owners, there’d be no season.

In regards to the realignment due to COVID restrictions and keeping the games more regional, it is out of necessity. We all heard the proposal of the new four divisions for 2021. I admit to at first being skeptical. However, I understand why they’re doing it. The prospect of an all Canadian Division is cool. Even if they refer to it as the North which makes no sense, it definitely is intriguing. In one huge change, you’ll have all seven Canadian teams playing each other in the same division. That would be Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg. Wow. It sure will be different.

There also are a few adjustments to the other divisions. The East will feature the Bruins, Capitals, Devils, Flyers, Islanders, Penguins, Rangers and Sabres. Add Boston and Buffalo in an old school Patrick Division to the unique rivalries you already have and it feels even better. You mean to tell me that in addition to eight games versus the Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Pens and Caps, the Rangers are gonna play eight against Boston and Buffalo. It sounds great. Those are upgrades over Carolina and Columbus.

As for the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, they’ll move to the Central which also includes the defending champion Lightning, runner-up Stars with the Blackhawks, Predators, Panthers and Red Wings, who get to be out West again. That means the Blues and Avalanche are in the West with the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Golden Knights, Coyotes and Panthers. Yes, the state of Florida same division.

How it looks on paper:

EAST

1. Capitals

2. Devils

3. Islanders

4. Flyers

5. Penguins

6. Rangers

7. Bruins

8. Sabres

CENTRAL

1. Blackhawks

2. Predators

3. Stars

4. Red Wings

5. Blue Jackets

6. Hurricanes

7. Lightning

8. Panthers

WEST

1. Coyotes

2. Ducks

3. Golden Knights

4. Kings

5. Sharks

6. Avalanche

7. Blues

8. Wild

NORTH (CANADIAN)

1. Canadiens

2. Canucks

3. Flames

4. Jets

5. Maple Leafs

6. Oilers

7. Senators

My only question is with the Canadian Division. They have one less team. Will they just play each other more? Probably. Since it’s regional, that makes sense. What about British Columbia possibly forcing the Canucks to play elsewhere due to COVID restrictions? I have no idea. As they draw nearer, we’ll have a definitive answer. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. Especially if everyone is tested daily with vaccinations coming soon.

One more question. How will teams look without no preseason? It’s a good question. They’re not even having any tuneup games. At least the NBA had a few exhibitions. I honestly feel hockey is rushing back too soon after scrambling to get this done. There should be camps and at least four preseason games. That would allow players to get into better game shape and up to speed. You could see more injuries. Or more rust. Don’t be surprised if there are some slow starts. It’s bound to happen.

The trade deadline is April 12.

The regular season concludes May 8.

The final day of the playoffs would be July 15.

The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is July 21.

As far as the playoff format, it’ll be divisional for the first two rounds. Only the top four teams will make the postseason in each division. So, that will make it even tougher for the Rangers and Sabres, who are in a very tough division that features the Bruins, Capitals, Flyers, Islanders and Penguins. One of those teams isn’t making it. Maybe even two. That will depend on how well the Rangers, Sabres and Devils play.

It’ll be more challenging for the fringe teams who are on the cusp to make it. That will make for intense races from the very start. With an emphasis on divisional play, that means a lot of four point games. Some three pointers as well. You have to get off to a quick start. If you fall too far behind, it’ll be hard to catch up.

All of this will make for a compelling season. It’ll be a sprint to the finish.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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