The NHL published its 2021 regular season schedule on Wednesday, with the first puck dropping on Wednesday, January 13th. The Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their second Stanley Cup championship banner that night before hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena.
The rest of the opening night schedule includes the Philadelphia Flyers hosting Pittsburgh Penguins, the Montreal Canadiens at the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks at the Edmonton Oilers, and the St. Louis Blues at the Colorado Avalanche.
Each team will play 56 games, and it will be exclusively intra-divisional play. The league realigned the divisions to cut down on travel and due to the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada border. There is a Canada division, and then the remaining teams are split between three divisions.
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 will play every other team in its division nine or 10 times.
The league is switching to a baseball-style approach to scheduling with teams playing multiple times in a given city before one team leaves town, or in some cases the region. For example, the Boston Bruins open at the New Jersey Devils on January 14. The two teams will play a second time on January 16, and then Boston will play the New York Islanders on January 18. The most notable instance of repeat scheduling has Anaheim and LA playing five straight games, three times in LA and two times in Anaheim.
Arenas will host games with many initially without fans, and the league announced it is “prepared to play games in one or more ‘neutral site; venues per division should it become necessary.” That would seem to indicate if the league has any COVID-19 outbreaks, a bubble system remains an option.
Formal training camp opens across the league on January 3, with the seven teams that did not play in the Canada bubble over the summer allowed to return as early as December 31. There will be no preseason games.
The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with intradivisional play in the first two rounds (#1 vs. #4; #2 vs. #3). The four teams that advance to the Semifinal Round would be seeded by their regular season points total, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 4 seed in one series and the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meeting in the other.