Official: 56-game NHL season set for Jan. 13

It’s a real thing.

The NHL and NHL Players Association have formalized an agreement to play a 56-game season beginning Jan. 13 and running to May 8.

The agreement, which was first tentatively accepted on Friday, has now come to fruition with a number of changes; some that have been in talks for weeks leading up to this day, and now that have been confirmed.

For at least this season only, the NHL will realign the four divisions — North, West, East and Central. The North division will consist of all seven Canadian teams.

The West, featuring the Vegas Golden Knights, will bring the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild from the original Central to group with the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

Each team will play the other eight times apiece in the regular season — the North division will play nine or 10 games each — leading up to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The top four teams make the playoffs, eliminating the wild card spots, and will be grouped in 1-v-4 and 2-v-3 matchups. The conference final matchups will feature one team from each division, guaranteeing one Canadian team makes the final four.

“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.”

Teams are expected to play games in their home arenas with fans permitted based on the state’s health guidelines in response to COVID-19.

Training camps, with the exception of the seven teams that didn’t make the playoffs during last season’s return to play (by a few days) will start Jan. 3, where the Golden Knights will begin the workings of their fourth season.

The season is expected to conclude by mid-July, in time for the Summer Olympics to air on NBC, which also carries the rights to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Athletic reported that the season will end in time for the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft (July 21), the NHL Draft (July 23-24) and free agency (July 28).

“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,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director 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.”

Realigned Divisions

North - Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver Winnipeg

West - Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas

Central - Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay

East - Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington