NHL Rumors: How the 2021 Season might really look
What we know, what we don't and how Covid may change everything.
You can read more at Kyle Covers Spreads.
You might think an article about NHL rumors coming out now is a bit strange. After all, the NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement, so we have a pretty good idea what the season is going to look like.
Or do we?
In this article, we’re going to go over what we know, and more crucially, what we don’t know. This season is going to look very different than most other seasons - and that might affect everything from single-game bets to brackets.
What we know
Most of you already know what we know, so we’ll keep it brief. There are a few very important changes to the NHL this year:
The four divisions
The league is going to be broken up into four divisions. They are as follows:
This perhaps comes as no surprise to fans who have been following the rumors - the travel ban between the United States and Canada has caused many to suspect the League would create a “Canadian Division”. Why they didn’t name it that, this writer can’t tell you (I mean, c’mon, St. Paul is north of Toronto!).
Training camp for teams that made the playoffs in the 2019-2020 season will begin on January 3rd - those who didn’t make the playoffs can begin training camp on New Year’s Eve. It’s going to be a 56 game season. The first games begin on January 13th. You’ll see that teams are playing each other multiple times in a row at the same stadium - this is to limit travel.
The season’s trade deadline is April 12th. The regular season will end on May 8th, with the playoffs firing off May 11th. That is, of course, if everything goes according to plan.
The offside rule
Coaches, players, and officials were all tired of the old offside rule, in which cameras were being used to determine, to pixel-perfection, whether or not a player’s skate was on the ice. Those days are no more - the blue line is considered to have a vertical “plane”, so what refs will be looking for is whether or not a player’s skate has pierced that plane before the puck. Hopefully, this change will make offside challenges a bit simpler.
What we don’t know
Everything that we just spelled out seems simple enough, right?
In an ideal world, yes. The world we’re in right now, however, is far from ideal for traveling around and playing sports. Even though the NHL has attempted to limit how much traveling the teams will do, and specifically worked to eliminate cross-border travel, there are still problems.
The Canadian problem
Here’s a big rumor floating around: the Canadian teams may still end up in a bubble.
Several provinces with Canadian teams are having big COVID problems.
Ontario (Leafs and Senators), Quebec (Canadiens), Manitoba (Jets), and BC (Canucks) are all under lockdown orders right now - these orders confine residents to their homes, with no gatherings allowed. While Quebec’s lockdown is expected to end before the season starts, it’s difficult to say whether or not the other provinces will also relax their restrictions. What’s more, there’s no telling whether or not Quebec’s lockdown will continue - it all depends on case numbers.
The NHL is still in talks with the Canadian federal and provincial governments in order to determine how to protect players, staff, and fans as the season progresses. A bubble is an effective way of going about this, but it puts a lot of strain on players. How these negotiations will turn out remains to be seen - we might see bubbles, a delay in the season, or some combination of the two.
The general COVID problem
While states in the US have generally seen much more lax regulation around gatherings, California (Mighty Ducks, Kings, Sharks) is, as of the writing of this article, in lockdown. Almost half of the teams in the West division are Californian teams, so if strict lockdown continues, it may affect play. Again, we could see the season shortening, or a bubble (though the latter seems unlikely).
How it will all pan out
This is the harder thing to figure out, and probably the space where you’ll find the most rumors. Which division is the strongest? How will the new offside rules affect play? How will travel rules, restrictions, schedule changes, and potential bubbles affect morale? You can find all kinds of think pieces on this stuff, from to sports writers guessing at government regulations. Only time will tell.