Detroit Red Wings will play just 7 other teams 8 times each in upcoming 2021 NHL season

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Get ready for a good many games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And the Chicago Blackhawks.

The NHL and the NHL Players Association formally agreed Sunday to a 56-game season that will start Jan. 13 and conclude on May 8. The Wings, one of seven teams that were not part of the 2020 playoff bubble, can start training camp as early as New Year’s Eve — a day they traditionally play at home.

Most Wings players have been skating at the practice facility inside Little Caesars Arena since ice was put in the last weekend in November. Jeff Blashill and select members of his coaching staff have also returned to their offices at LCA after working from home.

COVID-19 forced the NHL to delay the start of the 2020-21 season, and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada has necessitated realigning divisions into geographical regions. In order to minimize travel, teams will only play against divisional opponents. In the Wings’ case, being in the Central Division, that means eight games each against the Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Lightning.

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The East Division will be the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York  Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The West is made up of the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Las Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.

The North Division will have the seven Canadian teams: The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets. The Canadian teams will play each other nine or 10 times.

Teams will play at home, as opposed to the bubble scenarios used for the 2020 playoffs, in which Eastern Conference teams played in Toronto and Western Conference teams in Edmonton.

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There is a contingency plan to use what the NHL calls “neutral sites” if a team cannot play at home because of the pandemic.

At least initially, no fans will be in the stands.

The top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, which will feature the usual best-of-seven, four-round format. The playoffs are slated to conclude in mid-July, about a month later than usual. The hope is to start the 2021-22 season as usual, at the start of October.

Starting training camp Dec. 31 would give the Wings two weeks to prepare for what will be their first game since March 10, when a loss the Hurricanes ensured a 17-49-5 finish to the 2019-20 season. There won’t be any exhibition games.

The Wings will be integrating several new players after general manager Steve Yzerman used the offseason to forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, defensemen Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher, and goaltender Thomas Greiss.

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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