The NHL and NHL Player’s Association have reached an agreement to go ahead with a 56-game regular season.
The season will start on January 13 and conclude on May 8.
The 2020-2021 season had been delayed due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19.
“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 an announcement on the NHL website Sunday afternoon. “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.”
Formal training camps will start on January 3, but there will be no pre-season games.
The seven teams that didn’t participate in the 2019-2020 Return to Play will be allowed to open their training camps as early as December 31.
As part of the agreement, the Stanley Cup Playoffs would feature 16 teams in the traditional best-of-seven, four-round format and end around mid-July with the plan of returning to “a normal” hockey calendar for the 2021-2022 season (regular season starting in October).
Games will be within realigned divisions only, including a division of the seven teams based in Canada.
In reaching agreement on the format for the 2020-2021 season, the NHL and NHLPA determined that the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada border required realignment and the NHL and the players also sought to minimize team travel as much as possible by shift to exclusively inter-divisional play.
That means each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play ever other team in its division eight times while each tea 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 inter-divisional play in the first two rounds. The four teams that advance to the semifinal round would be seeded by their regular season points total.
It is the current plan to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will note t least in the initial part of the season, be able to host fans.
Depending on the conditions, however, the NHL will be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.
"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. "During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice."
The NHL and NHLPA have had to adjust to government regulations at all levels, from restrictions at the Canada-United States border to local limits on gatherings, and the coronavirus situation in each of the markets for the 31 NHL teams. The agreement includes health and safety protocols, the announcement says.