NHL News: Hockey Playoffs Preview
Wayne Gretzky Statue Rogers Place
Mar 13, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The statue of Wayne Gretzky watches over an empty Rogers Place as the NHL suspends games because of the COVID-19 outbreak at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

After having the 2019-2020 season cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Hockey League (NHL) is coming back in full swing. While this could be a total score for hockey fans, with the pandemic still in full swing and the real times of it fading out not close to being determined, changes to the format of play including in the postseason had to be put into action. Now that the season is underway and with top online sports betting platforms already posting odds for the future postseason, let’s break down how it will all play out.

Coming Back After a Year Without Hockey

After having their 2019-2020 season cancelled due to the global pandemic that struck all around the NHL decided to come back into action on January 13th, 2021. With the new season, a new form of playing the game, adapting to all health and safety protocols was put into place. The first change was the divisional realignment, making this season an exclusive intra divisional playing season. By doing this the NHL will be able to reduce travel, which will also help reduce costs and will help battle possible spreads of the virus. 

The reasoning behind this change comes from the Canadian borders still being closed to nonessential business, ending up with the decision to put all Canadian teams into one division, the north division. In this division they will play each other between 9 to 10 games per season while the teams in all other divisions will face their divisional counterparts eight times. 

Two more changes that need adapting too and that other pro sports leagues in the US have gone through is whether teams can play in their own arenas or do they need relocating and also if fans will be in attendance or not. While the hopes for all teams to play in their home arenas is there and pounding, the NHL is also already thinking into the possibility of neutral venues to be used per the needs of each division if the pandemic situation works. 

Lastly with some cities like Dallas, with their team, the Dallas Stars allowing a reduced amount of 5,000 fans in their home games, most other teams are not looking at hosting fans in the near future as a possibility. The NHL is basically going to be following the guidance of health and government authorities in order to open up the chance of fans attending games.

How Will The Playoffs Be Played?

With plans for the regular season to finish around May 8th, the league will be returning to a 16-team, four round, with best of seven series playoff design. What does this mean for playoff pairing and playing? There will be two first intra divisional rounds played, after which the four divisional winners will move on to the semifinals. Once in the semifinals teams will be reseeded based on their point totals of the regular season. Simply put, it would be a 1 vs. 4 and a 2 vs. 3 set up. After the Stanley Cup will be played amongst the two winners of the semifinals. Everything is super simple until now, we know, but here’s the kicker. 

With the realignment of divisions and teams according to their location, having all squads only play against their divisional foes in a postseason scenario this means that the typical Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference teams will not be guaranteed. What does this mean in regular terms? That two teams who would be sharing a conference in a non-pandemic season might end up meeting up for the Stanley Cup trophy is not that farfetched. The Stanley Cup either way is set to be played in a best of seven series finishing in around mid-July.