Our 2021 NHL season preview details the several changes to the league
Promising lots of engaging action full of twists and turns on the ice, this 2021 NHL season preview details the format and schedule changes that were just released. Like many sports playing their games during the pandemic, the world of professional ice hockey has been forced to adapt and evolve. The aim is to ensure that games can proceed with the minimum of disruption. However, this has also presented some unique and interesting opportunities.
2021 NHL Season Format
The NHL announced a different format ahead of the 2021 season, which officially is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 13. Unlike pre-Covid seasons, for 2021 the league will feature an 868-game regular-season schedule—56 games per team—that will conclude Saturday, May 8, when 30 of the league’s 31 teams take to the ice. The last possible playoff game is scheduled to run into July 2021.
There will also be a temporary realignment of divisions, with the 31 competing teams placed among four divisions and without any inter-divisional games. The top four teams from each of these divisions will qualify directly for the 2021 playoffs, using a best-of-seven game format to decide which teams will advance.
Perhaps one of the most thrilling aspects will be the regional rivalries on display, especially in the North Division. This division will exclusively feature the seven Canadian franchises. This will be the first and—possibly only—time an all-Canadian division appears during the regular season of the NHL campaign. The NHL itself was founded in 1917, although the first divisions weren’t introduced until the 1926-27 season, when the first team from the US also joined the league.
The new 2021 NHL divisional format also guarantees regional battles among the American franchises. The New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and New York Rangers will all compete in the East Division. Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks are the Californian trio grouped in the West Division. Likewise, the Central Division features a Sunshine State pairing of the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tipped for Success
As the teams and players make their final preparations ahead of the season opener, many of the leading sportsbooks are already publishing their tips and predictions. These include early odds for which teams are considered among the favorites to claim divisional titles; leading contenders favored to reach the playoffs; and maybe even those that go all the way to win the holy grail: Lord Stanley’s Cup.
With lots of online betting sites to choose from (and particularly in Canada, where ice hockey remains the most popular of all the major sports in North America), speculators can check out detailed reviews of online sportsbooks operating from north of the border. This includes information about the latest bonus offers and promotions, along with an overall evaluation of the features available at all the leading sites.
Despite the huge popularity of the NHL in Canada, surprisingly the ‘Great White North’ hasn’t produced any Cup champions for quite some time. The Montreal Canadiens were the last team to achieve that feat back in 1993, when they beat the Los Angeles Kings. The last Canadian franchise to make the finals was the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, losing a fierce series 4-3 against the Boston Bruins.
As for the general consensus among sportsbooks, the US teams are expected to remain dominant in the NHL. Reigning Stanley Cup champions the Tampa Bay Lightning are once again poised for success, with the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche predicted to be the biggest challengers. That said, many betting sites also favor the Toronto Maple Leafs among the best five sides, giving Canadian hockey fans some much-needed hope.
The NHL Divisions for 2021
NORTH: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets.
CENTRAL: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
EAST: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
WEST: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Retro Revival
Just to add a little extra spice to the new season, the NHL and Adidas have introduced “Reverse Retro” jerseys for all 31 teams. These are alternate jerseys and feature designs from previous years, albeit with a modern flourish. They pay homage to classic and successful teams from the past of each franchise.
The icing on the cake will be the introduction of the Puck and Player Tracking system, which the league anticipates will boost scoring by about 25%.
Certainly, these additions are a nice touch by the NHL and are sure to be welcomed by fans of every team, ahead of what promises to be a memorable season.