Hockey is set to return Jan. 13 after the NHL and players completed a deal Sunday to hold a 56-game season that would include playoffs lasting into July to award the Stanley Cup.
The league’s Board of Governors voted to approve the agreement that was backed by the NHL Players’ Association executive board Friday night. The regular season is scheduled to go until May 8 with a 16-team playoff to follow.
The season will be highly unusual in at least one respect: There will be four divisions — North, South, East and West — and all play will be within divisions to minimize travel and the potential for the coronavirus to disrupt the season. The North Division contains only the seven Canadian teams.
“It is the current plan to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will not, at least in the initial part of the season, be able to host fans,” the NHL said.
The league is allowing for the possibility of playing games at neutral sites if needed. Final details on where the Canadian teams will play are still pending until there are agreements with federal and provincial health officials.
Still, the hurdles won’t be enough to prevent the season from starting without a quarantined bubble.
“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season,” 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.”
The NHL completed last season in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, with players, coaches and staff isolated from the general public and virus-tested daily. .
“The players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting,” 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.”
Most of the league will open training camp Jan. 3. The seven teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season can start as soon as Dec. 31.