Let’s play hockey!
On Sunday, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association officially announced that they’d come to terms on the basic structure for a new season.
Games will kick off on Jan. 13 for a 56-game regular-season schedule. All games will be played within the new re-aligned divisions. The Flyers are in what’s now called the East Division and will play their seven opponents eight times each.
Hello, East Division
There’s one tweak from the original divisional lineup that I previewed last month: the Battle of Pennsylvania will continue. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be part of the East Division, along with four other familiar foes from the Metropolitan: the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.
The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres will round out the group — transplants from the Atlantic. The three Atlantic clubs from north of the border — the Maple Leafs, Senators, and Canadiens — will join an all-Canadian division. And the Red Wings, Lightning, and Panthers will join their Metro escapees Columbus and Carolina in the new Central Division, which also includes Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville.
The full schedule is expected to be released before Christmas. Expect to see lots of multi-game series between the same two teams — potentially even extending to a pair of home games against one club, followed by two road games against the same team. Very playoff-like!
After winning an NHL-best 25 games on home ice in 2019-20, the Flyers will be starting their season at Wells Fargo Center, but without fans in the stands.
“We are hopeful as the season progresses that we are able to safely welcome some number of fans back into the arena,” Flyers and Wells Fargo Center president of business operations told Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “While we are eager to welcome fans back, the health and safety of the community comes first.”
All East Division teams are expected to begin the season in their own arenas, and will barely need to get on a plane all year. That could create a big advantage over the other divisions at playoff time.
Divisional Playoff Format
The regular season is scheduled to conclude by May 8, with the playoffs starting May 11. The top four teams from each division will advance to the postseason. They’ll face off against each other in the first two rounds to determine a division winner — 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3. Then, the final four will be re-seeded for the semifinal — no conference final this year — and those winners will play for the Stanley Cup.
Here’s how the East Division teams stacked up last year, by regular-season points percentage:
- Boston Bruins – .714
- Washington Capitals – .652
- Philadelphia Flyers – .645
- Pittsburgh Penguins – .623
- New York Islanders – .588
- New York Rangers – .564
- Buffalo Sabres – .493
- New Jersey Devils – .493
The Flyers are well-positioned to compete for a playoff spot but don’t discount the Islanders, in particular. Under this format, they wouldn’t have even reached the postseason last year but in fact, they ended up pushing the Tampa Bay Lightning to six games in the Eastern Conference Final after dispatching the Flyers in Round 2.
“It’s going to be obviously a very tough division,” coach Alain Vigneault told reporters on Monday. “We know that that great competition is going to be great for us great for our fans.”
Though the season format has only been formalized for a few days, Vigneault said that he and his assistant coaches have been preparing since late October. They knew that they wouldn’t get much runway once the starter’s gun went off.
In the playoff bubble this summer, the Flyers had one exhibition game and three round-robin games to find their legs. This time, with no exhibition games, Vigneault says he’ll be relying on plenty of scrimmages during his 10-day camp to try to get his group ready to play right from puck drop of Game 1.
Teams will be permitted to bring up to 36 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies to training camp. When the regular season begins, they’ll need to get down to the usual 23-man roster, including goalies.
They can also carry a taxi squad of between four and six players, which will function like a mini-AHL club to allow easy roster flexibility if injuries or Covid-19 issues arise. Players on the taxi squad will be paid their AHL salaries and will not count toward the salary cap. There could also be an opportunity for clubs to accrue salary-cap space by moving players onto the taxi squad on non-game days. But players would need to clear waivers unless they are inexperienced enough to be exempt. The taxi squad roster also can never exceed six players.
Lindblom passed the one-year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis last week and has been declared cancer-free.
(📸: IG/ almalindqvist) pic.twitter.com/OabozMeQSv
— NHL (@NHL) December 16, 2020
Patrick missed all of last season with migraine disorder. Morin played just one NHL game before tearing his ACL in November of 2019.
“I can just imagine, whether you’re Nolan Patrick or Sam Morin and you haven’t been on the ice a while, you’re nervous,” he said. “But you’re looking forward to, hopefully, coming back and being there at the start of the camp and the start of the season.”
All players will take their physicals on the first day of camp on Jan. 3. If they pass, they’ll hit the ice one day later. “Hopefully (Patrick) and all our other players, we get the go ahead for them to participate in training camp and show what they can do.”
A number of prospects are currently playing in Europe. They’ll likely remain with their current clubs until the beginning of the AHL season. That’s currently scheduled for Feb. 5. According to Bill Meltzer on the Flyers’ website, that group could include German Rubtsov, David Kase, Linus Hogberg, Maksim Sushko and goaltender Felix Sandström.