January saw the 104th National Hockey League season begin, with 31 teams kicking off their 2020/21 campaign three months later than they usually would have. For the first time since 1924, when the Boston Bruins became the first American NHL team, there’s a division played entirely in Canada because of the limitations from Covid-19. But that’s not the only change that fans can expect this year – here’s a look at NHL’s 2021 upcoming season so you can plan your bets with help from NHL consensus picks and look forward to the upcoming games.
Teams to Watch
All eyes will be on Tampa Bay Lightning and whether they will be able to defend their title going forward to win a third Stanley Cup. There’s only one team that’s managed to retain the crown this century and that’s the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, so the pressure is on. Tampa Bay are one of the teams who will be affected by realignments, moving into the Central Division, which sets up a divisional rematch between them and the Stars. For those who enjoy betting on the matches, this tantalising outcome means that only one of last year’s finalists can make it to the final four this time. Fans will be watching the 2019 champions St Louis Blues too, who have moved into the West Division and will be up against the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche.
Each game this season will be played within the realigned divisions, which will be:
East: Boston-Buffalo-New Jersey-NY Islanders-NY Rangers-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Washington
Central: Carolina-Chicago-Columbus-Detroit-Florida-Dallas-Nashville-Tampa Bay
West: Anaheim-Arizona-Colorado-Minnesota-Los Angeles-Vegas-San Jose-St. Louis
At the close of the regular season, the top four teams from each of the divisions will qualify for the play-offs.
Will Fans Be Allowed at the Games?
In most cases, fans won’t be allowed at the games – the Stars, Coyotes, Panthers and Lightning will allow a limited number of fans, but other teams are more likely to reevaluate as the season unfolds. It will be difficult to get the same sense of excitement and adrenaline from the games without the intensity of the fans in the stands, and there’s no way to replicate that, but fans will need to see how 2021 pans out before they can know for sure if attendance is off limits. It will certainly be a different year for sport, much like 2020 was, but with more hope this time around that things will be looking up as the year progresses.
A Different Sense of Play as a Result of a Condensed Schedule
The final day of the NHL season is scheduled for 8th May, so the teams will need to attempt to play 56 games in less than four months. It’s guaranteed to be difficult and a challenge, so it will be interesting to see how that affects the players on the ice. The teams are expecting to share the workload of their goalkeepers fairly evenly, with a 1a and 1b system instead of a Number 1 and Number 2 goalie, which has proven to be a winning formula.