With the NHL and NHLPA reaching an agreement on the 2020-21 season we are now just three weeks away from when games will begin on January 13th. While season openers have leaked out for a handful of teams, everyone is still in the dark as to what the full season slate will look like. It’s not known when the schedules will be released in full, but some information is beginning to surface as to what the setup will look like.
Before jumping into the rumors on the schedule format, let’s take a quick look at what we know for certain at this time in regards to the 2020-21 NHL season schedule. It will be a 56-game, division only slate beginning on January 13th and ending on May 8th.
For the Penguins that means eight games a piece (4 home, 4 away) against the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals. For the most part, not much will change for the Penguins in regards to their divisional opponents with the Bruins and Sabres replacing the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes for this season.
made myself a map so I can understand the divisions better. figured I'd post it here as well. pic.twitter.com/w5rhrMFr0b— stllr #BLM (@stllr_) December 20, 2020
This divisional alignment means travel will be extremely limited for the Penguins this season, only heading south of the Mason-Dixon Line to play the Capitals but becoming plenty familiar with the New York City/New England area.
With what we already know out of the way, let’s dig into what is being said about the potential schedule format. Although travel will already be limited for the Penguins due to their divisional setup, it might become even more contained if the league sticks with the format used in draft schedules teams are received.
NHL teams have started receiving drafts of their 2021 regular-season schedule: It sounds like they're generally grouped in two-game segments against the same opponent, although there's also some three-gamers and I've heard of at least one instance of a four-gamer (!)— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 21, 2020
If you’re a baseball fan, this format will sound very familiar. Teams will play out their schedule in a series type setup similar to what you may see in Major League Baseball. Grouping games in this fashion will keep teams in cities for multiple days rather than city hopping like a traditional schedule.
Unlike baseball, it’s hard to imagine the NHL putting teams in a situation where they must play three games in three days, something that has never been done in the modern NHL. It’s also something the NHLPA is unlikely to agree to outside of an emergency situation. If there are three game series on the docket then expect at least one day off for the teams.
While this format is just rumors at the moment, there is belief that the entire season could play out this way, and there is another possible wrinkle thrown into the mix that could create some real hatred on the ice.
More NHL schedule intel: With better symmetry in the U.S.-based divisions -- eight teams, eight games apiece -- some there received a draft featuring a whole season played in two-game blocks.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 22, 2020
That includes the odd home-and-home ... so four straight games against the same team.
Two teams meeting upwards of four times in a row is unheard of outside of the playoffs and could create some real animosity among teams who are already playing eight teams this season. For the Penguins, given their opponents, this will just be added hatred to what already exists between them and their rivals.
Keeping teams in the same city for multiple days at a time also provides the NHL with scheduling flexibility in their attempt to squeeze 56 games into just 116 calendar days. From a Penguins perspective, there is the very real possibility they could play six games in a nine days span while never leaving the friendly confines of a New York City hotel room. In an effort to avoid COVID-19 wreaking havoc on a team, that could prove invaluable.
Given what the NHL is up against this coming season (shortened season, COVID, etc.) a schedule format in this MLB style makes the most sense. Keeping teams in place for longer periods of time will help the NHL get the games played on a tight schedule, provide better opportunities to keep teams isolated as much as possible, and help with any contact tracing that may be necessary should COVID issues arise.