With a 56-game season, just like that, the National Hockey League is back.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association announced today an agreement to play an abbreviated 2020-21 season starting Jan. 13, getting the sport back on the ice amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The season will be the 20th in Columbus Blue Jackets franchise history.
“I’m super excited,” goalie Elvis Merzlikins Jersey said recently of the specter of a return to the ice. “I can’t wait. I really miss hockey. I really miss the action. I am missing the boys, I am missing all my traditions and being with the boys in the locker room.”
Because of the pandemic, the 2019-20 season was paused March 12 with most teams still needing to play 12 to 15 games to conclude the regular season. The teams returned to practice in July before moving into a pair of “bubbles” in hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton to stage a 24-team playoff bracket that concluded Sept. 28 when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars to earn the Stanley Cup.
It was a postseason unlike any other and it will be followed by a regular season that will be just as unique. Because of travel issues related to the pandemic, the divisions will be realigned and teams will play only those foes, with Columbus playing eight games apiece this year against new Central Division opponents Tampa Bay, Carolina, Dallas, Nashville, Florida, Chicago and Detroit.
Per the NHL, 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. However, depending on prevailing conditions both in local markets and across North America, the League will be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.
“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 news release. “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.”
“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. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”
A full schedule and other specifics related to the season are expected to be released in the coming days, with the 56-game season to conclude May 8 and a normal 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket featuring the top four teams in each division to follow. Training camps are slated begin Jan. 3, but in recent weeks a number of Blue Jackets players have been skating at the OhioHealth Ice Haus in preparation for the upcoming season.
“There’s a good amount of guys that have been here,” veteran winger Cam Atkinson Jersey said recently. “We’ve been trying to get guys to come back early because we are skating, we are pushing each other, and it’s good to see more and more guys starting to trickle in.”
Columbus finished 33-22-15 while playing 70 games a season ago, good enough for a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets participated in the qualifying round of the playoffs, defeating Toronto by a 3-2 margin to reach the final 16 before losing in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning. With that showing, Columbus is just one of three NHL teams to have reached the final 16 of the playoffs each of the past four years.
The league will attempt to return to a normal calendar with an October start for the 2021-22 season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets and National Hockey League announced today a 2020-21 regular season schedule in which the club will play 56 games, including 28 home dates at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets will kick off their 20th NHL season with a two-game series at Nashville on Thursday and Saturday, January 14 and 16. The club will play its first home games of the season at Nationwide Arena on Thursday and Saturday, January 21 and 23 with a two-game set against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blue Jackets’ announcement of the club’s 2020-21 schedule is presented by mike’s Hard Lemonade. Game times and a broadcast schedule will be announced soon.
This season’s schedule will feature 56 games among the re-aligned Central Division’s eight teams. The Blue Jackets will play eight games each against the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Predators and Lightning. The club will play its 56-game schedule over 115 days between January 14 and May 8.
This season, which is the Blue Jackets’ 20th in the NHL, marks a return to its roots in the Central Division, where the club played its first 12 seasons from 2000-13. The club will reunite with former Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit and Nashville) and continue to compete against one Metropolitan Division rival of the past seven seasons (Carolina). In addition, Columbus will face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom it upset in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to in the 2020 postseason as Tampa Bay went on to win the second Stanley Cup in franchise history. In Florida, the Blue Jackets face a team led by General Manager Bill Zito (CBJ Assistant GM from 2013-20) and includes former Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky Jersey, Alexander Wennberg Jersey, Markus Nutivaara Jersey, Anthony Duclair and Anton Stralman. Below is breakdown of the schedule by opponent: