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Hockey, Back: Agreement reached for 56-game NHL season starting Jan. 13

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Barring any unforeseen circumstances... Now officially official. Prepare yourselves.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Islanders - Game Six
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Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL and NHLPA have reached an tentative agreement on a 56-game 2021 season that would begin on January 13th.

A couple of things we won’t be seeing will be exhibition or preseason games or prorated salaries, according to Elliotte Friedman. Training camps will open on January 3rd or December 30th for the teams that were not invited into the post-season bubble last summer.

And speaking of the playoffs, the plan is to change them, too. This sounds like we could have a Thunderdome-like situation brewing.

The divisional alignment seemed to have been settled a while back, but heath regulations in Canada might affect things. Also from Sportsnet:

The deal does not currently include a resolution to where Canadian teams will be playing. Provincial COVID-19 restrictions have complicated the NHL’s bid to conduct an all-Canadian division comprised of Canada’s seven clubs. If games cannot be played in Canada, the NHL has considered a plan that would see Canada’s teams play their seasons in the United States.

Assuming that plan does go ahead, the divisions could look like this (except one of the two Ottawa teams would be playing out of Toronto and called, “The Maple Leaves” or something like that. Sounds silly.):

Friedman also says teams will have the ability to “toll” the contracts of players who want to opt out of the season. There will also be an agreement of a 4-6 player “taxi squad” of extra AHL players allowed to stay with each club. That’s the kind of thing we’ll learn more about once things are finalized, which could be this weekend.

Update: It’s official now, per an announcement on NHL.com.

As part of the temporary realignment, teams will only play the other clubs in their division. So I hope you all like games against the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Penguins, Capitals, Sabres and Bruins, because that’s all you’re getting until the Conference Finals.

Each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play every other team in its division eight times while each team in the North Division (Canada teams) will play every other team in its division nine or 10 times.

The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with intradivisional play in the first two rounds (No. 1 vs. No. 4; No. 2 vs. No. 3). The four teams that advance to the Semifinal Round would be seeded by their regular season points total.

(by the way, the Islanders’ division is officially called the East Division now. As we used to chant at the Coliseum, “Booooring!”)

Of course, we’ll all be watching these games from home and not Nassau Coliseum or any other arena. At least, at first. The announcement also left a lot of wiggle room opening up the possibilities of teams playing in other places (this is probably pertains more to the Sharks and Canucks, who are facing issues with playing in the home arenas).

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. But depending on prevailing conditions, the NHL will be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.

As usual, Friedman has a lot of additional information on his Twitter feed, including key dates, rookie slide info and a phrase that all hockey fans definitely love to hear, “Unlimited Goalies.” (but just for training camp. Damn.)

The Islanders made their announcement by checking into the Rosebud Motel. Very nice.