Finally, there’s some good news to report. We’re going to have hockey to watch, beginning Jan. 13.
See, things are already looking up for 2021. And we’re not even there yet. I know Danny Webster, Gaming Today’s hockey guru, is thrilled to be back at his computer writing his weekly column. For him and millions of us who love and follow the NHL, it’s an early Christmas present, or a late Hanukkah present, depending what you celebrate.
Incidentally, Danny returns to these pages next week and we’re glad he’s back.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 20, 2020
Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. For a while, it was looking somewhat ominous there was going to be a season. The NHL and its players were trying to get on the same page on a number of issues, not the least of which was salaries. A few owners were not sure they wanted to play and risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars. There were also protocol issues, both in Canada and the United States to deal with as the border between the two countries remains closed to non-essential traffic.
It meant some creative thinking and some realigning was required.
But in the end, the result everyone was seeking was attained. The NHL will drop the puck on Jan. 13. There will be 56 games with realigned divisions, including an all-Canadian Division. You play everyone in your division only and you do get to travel.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will return to a 16-team format. The top four teams in each of the four divisions qualify beginning in mid-May. The regular season is tentatively scheduled to end on May 8. Expect the Cup to be awarded by mid-July, just in time for NBC, the league’s TV partner, to head to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics.
Whether fans get to enter the arenas and watch will be determined by state, provincial and local policies as they relate to COVID-19. It’s something to think about when you consider making your wagers come next month. One night, your team may be playing in an empty building. A couple nights later, there will be fans cheering for them or rooting against them.
Think of it as a modern version of the NHL’s Original Six. You remember those teams, don’t you? The Maple Leafs and Canadiens, the Red Wings and the Blackhawks, the Rangers and the Bruins. They were all familiar with each other. Back then, you didn’t need an analytics department to tell you to keep a close eye on Rocket Richard or Gordie Howe or Bobby Hull. You just put a pesky or tough guy on the ice to shadow them.
Those players also policed the game themselves. If someone pulled a cheap shot, the offender could expect retribution. Sometimes it would be swift, like the next night. Or it might be the next week or month. But the guy knew the opposition had gotten the license plate number and it was just a matter of when they got even.
We’ve seen a lot of cheap stuff in hockey in recent years as the NHL has tried to get fighting out of its game. Instead, we see more slashes, more tripping guys when they’re not looking, cross checking players from behind into the glass when they’re most vulnerable. Perhaps we’ll see these less-than-courageous acts diminished this year because these teams will play each other so often, a player may not want to face the music should he attempt to cheap shot an opponent. Sometimes the payback is worse than the initial act.
Time will tell if that’s the case. Meanwhile, we can start thinking about our favorite team, how it got better — or worse — during the off-season. We can start arguing about who should be on which line, who should start in net, who should be on the power play and who will replace Doc Emrick in the NBC booth.
We can finish our Christmas shopping (What, you’re not done yet?) and purchase one of those NHL Reverse Retro jerseys from our favorite team. After all, we need to wear something on Opening Night next month.
The NBA started Tuesday night. The NFL appears it will make it to the finish line in Tampa come Feb. 7 with Super Bowl LV. Baseball is planning to welcome back fans in the spring. How do I know? The Yankees email me every week with some special offer to purchase tickets for the 2021 season.
So it’s time for the NHL to drop the puck. I hope you’re ready. I know I am.