Hockey is officially back.
The NHL and NHLPA announced that they had come to an agreement on Sunday to play a 56-game regular season that will begin on Jan. 13 and end on May 8. The announcement caps a push over the past few weeks by the league and players to come to an agreement and play a 2020-21 season.
Under the agreed-upon plan, teams will play exclusively against opponents in their own division with the playoffs concluding around mid-July. The New York Islanders, along with the rest of the league, will open training camp on Jan 3. and there will be no preseason games.
“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season, especially since the Return to Play in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “While we are well aware of the challenges ahead, as was the case last spring and summer, we are continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and play. And, as was the case last spring and summer, I thank the NHLPA, particularly Executive Director Don Fehr, for working cooperatively with us to get our League back on the ice.”
The NHL is planning to host games in teams’ home arenas, but they said they are prepared to “play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.” There is also an understanding that most markets will begin the season without fans in the stands, the league said in a press release.
To mitigate travel for teams, the NHL will realign divisions this season, which will include an all-Canadian division. While not the most creative names, the Islanders will play in the East Division with the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadephia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins.
“The Players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting for the fans and Players alike,” NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said in a statement. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much-needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”
Health and Safety Protocols, transition rules and critical dates will be announced in the coming days, the NHL said.
However, TSN’s NHL insiders reported that the trade deadline would be April 8 and the Seattle Kraken expansion draft would take place July 21. They also reported that the NHL Draft would take place July 23-24 and free agency would begin on July 28.
Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman also reported that teams would be allowed to bring 36 players to training camp and an unlimited number of goaltenders.