When does the 2021 NHL season start?

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The puck drops for the 2021 NHL season this Wednesday, January 13 on NBC but this year’s format will look different as each of the league’s 31 teams will play a condensed, 56-game schedule (868 total regular season games) competing in four realigned divisions as part of the NHL’s effort to limit travel during the pandemic. See below for all you need to know about the 2021 NHL season, including the format, key dates, and more.

Be sure to tune to NBCSN on Wednesday for an opening night triple header. It’s the Penguins vs. Flyers at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Blackhawks vs. Lightning at 8:00 p.m., and the Blues vs. Avalanche at 10:30 p.m..

Live coverage begins at 5:15 p.m. with NHL Live. Click here for the 2020-2021 NHL on NBC regular season schedule.

What does the division realignment look like?

The North division will consist of only Canadian teams due to the border closure between the United States and Canada as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play every other team in its division 8 times while each team in the North Division will play every other team in its division 9 or 10 times.

North: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and the Winnipeg Jets.

West: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, LA Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Central: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

East: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Washington Capitals.

What else is new this season?

Off the ice, the NHL is preparing for possible COVID-19 outbreaks with taxi squads. Teams can have a taxi squad of 4-6 players who will be able to practice and travel with the team. For teams with fewer than 3 goalies on their active roster, 1 goalie will be required on its taxi squad.

On the ice, the NHL has made a change to the offsides rule. Starting this season, a player’s skate will not have to be in contact with the blue line in order to be on-side. The updated language for NHL Rule 83.1 follows: A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line. On his own side of the line shall be defined by a “plane” of the blue line which shall extend from the leading edge of the blue line upwards. If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be on-side for the purpose of the off-side rule.

When are the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and what will the format look like?

The Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature a 16-team, best-of-seven, four-round playoff format beginning on Tuesday, May 11. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Playoffs, with intradivisional play in the first two rounds (#1 vs. #4; #2 vs. #3). The four teams that advance to the Semifinal Round would be seeded by their regular-season points total, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 4 seed in one series and the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meeting in the other.

What are the key dates to know?

*Subject to change

  • Jan. 13 – Start of regular season
  • Apr. 12 – Trade deadline (3pm ET)
  • May 8* – Final day of regular season
  • July 9* – Last possible day of Stanley Cup Final
  • July 21 – Seattle Kraken expansion draft
  • July 23-24 – NHL Draft
  • July 28 – Free agent signing period begins

Be sure to check out ProHockeyTalk for more on the 2021 NHL season including game previews, recaps, news, rumors and more. Click here for the 2020-2021 NHL on NBC regular season schedule.