A look at the NHL’s upcoming season

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Graphic courtesy of Nhl.com

Professional hockey is finally back! Normally, the National Hockey League (NHL) season would have begun in October, but due to COVID-19, the previous season had to end late, so they created a shorter season that started in January. Now, all 31 teams are back in action and looking to win the Stanley Cup!

The NHL has made many adjustments according to CDC guidelines in order to keep players safe. The new protocols include: 

  • Having the coaches behind the benches wear masks
  • Everyone traveling with the team must be tested every day for at least the first four weeks of the season
  • Those traveling with the teams are not allowed to leave their designated locations
  • All of the interviews will be done virtually 

The NHL has also cut their season shorter due to COVID-19. Typically, a season lasts 82 games, starting in October. Then, the teams who qualify will play for the Stanley Cup which is awarded in June. This year, however, they are playing 56 games plus the playoffs for the Stanley Cup which will be held in July.  After the Stanley Cup is won in July, future seasons will once again be starting in October and ending in June. 

This year, there are also new divisions. Due to COVID-19, the US-Canada border is closed, so all of the Canadian teams are now in the same division. The other divisions have been realigned based on geography. The league is prepared to be flexible in the event of any possible COVID-19 outbreaks.

Our local team, the San Jose Sharks, have been off for 10 months since they did not qualify for the playoffs last season. During that time, lots of changes were made in the team. The Sharks have lost key players during those months like Joe Thorton, Aaron Dell and Melker Karlson due to free agency. Their interim head coach from last year, Bob Boughner, has officially become the new head coach this season. The team is not allowed to play in Santa Clara County because of the ban on contact sports, so they did their training camp in Arizona. If the protocols are still in place by the time they have home games, then they will need to find an alternate home rink. 

The NHL has recently announced that a rink with a spectacular backdrop at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort would be constructed for two outdoor games in February. The Sharks seem like an obvious choice for one of the teams getting to play here, because they are the closest team location-wise to Lake Tahoe, but they were not chosen. Instead, the Vegas Golden Knights will play the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, Feb. 20, and the Boston Bruins will play the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, Feb. 21. These will be the leagues’ showcase games as there will not be an All-Star Game this year.

After this season, there will be an expansion draft to help build the league’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken. When a new team joins the league, it has the opportunity to select a player from each of the other teams. Those teams are able to protect a limited number of players from this draft. This process causes a lot of roster changes throughout the league. 

The league hopes to start the following 2021-2022 season in October and get back on its traditional schedule, but in these unpredictable times, there will have to be some flexibility. Everyone involved wants to return to normal times, hockey fans are waiting for the day where they can see their favorite team play again in person and players want to be able to play in buildings with an electric atmosphere that only their fans can create. We all look forward to the day where hockey can be safely enjoyed by everyone again.