With an agreement on participation in the Winter Olympics reached, the NHL released its 2013-14 schedule Friday. The season starts Oct. 1 and wraps up April 13.
There are still two conferences, but the number of divisions has been reduced to four. For the first time since 2004, all 30 teams will face each other home and away.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting scheduling aspects:
Tough start: With Madison Square Garden going through its final phase of renovation, the New York Rangers will begin the season by touring North America. They play their first nine games away from the Garden, matching a 1955-56 road trip for the longest in franchise history. Every team plays 41 home games, so the Rangers will make up for their grueling trip by playing nine straight games at home -- the longest homestand in franchise history -- from Dec. 7-23.
The Rangers might be the only team that won't have any sympathy for the Ottawa Senators, who begin their season with six road games, the last four in California and Arizona.
Not-so-great eight: The Anaheim Ducks have the next-longest trip, an eight-game journey from Oct. 22 through Nov. 4, all in the Eastern time zone. The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team with two long trips: They're away for seven games each, from Nov. 19-30 and from Jan. 28 through Feb. 27 (the final game, against the Rangers, comes after the Olympic break).
Fast five: The St. Louis Blues begin the season enjoying the comforts of home. St. Louis opens its season Oct. 3 against the Nashville Predators and plays its next four games at Scottrade Center (including one against the Rangers). No other team plays more than three straight home games to start its season.
The Florida Panthers start their season with four road games, but they'll get to enjoy the sunshine in the last couple of weeks of the season. The Panthers end with five home games, the longest season-ending home stretch of any team.
Doubling up: The New Jersey Devils will play 44 of their 82 games in pairs. The Devils will take part in a League-high 22 back-to-backs, beginning with their season opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 3 and their home opener against the New York Islanders the next night. New Jersey's next two games are on consecutive nights: the Devils visit the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 7 and the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 8.
The Buffalo Sabres are near the bottom of the list with 13 back-to-backs, a fact that's notable because it's a lot fewer than they usually play. Beginning with their arrival in the NHL in 1970, the Sabres have averaged 20 sets of back-to-back games in a full season. They led the NHL in each of the past two 82-game seasons and have played on consecutive nights more than any team in the NHL since 2005.
Unusual dates: There will be at least one game at Air Canada Centre every night of the week this season, something that hasn't happened in years. The Toronto Maple Leafs' game against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 8 is Toronto's first home game on a Sunday since Feb. 23, 2003, and a Dec. 27 visit from the Buffalo Sabres is the first Friday night game since Dec. 23, 2005.
There will be NHL hockey on Thanksgiving in the United States for the first time since 2007. The Nashville Predators, the last U.S. team to host a game on the holiday, will host the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 28, a game that will face off about a half-hour after one between the Senators and Vancouver Canucks. No NHL teams have played on Thanksgiving since 2010.
As has been the case beginning in 1972, there are no games on Christmas. This season's schedule increases the Christmas break from two days to three, meaning that after 28 of the 30 teams play Dec. 23, the League will be dark from Dec. 24-26.
Break time: The NHL will take a 16-day timeout for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. After 10 games on Feb. 8, 2014, the League will shut down until Feb. 26, when there are four games on the schedule. The 16-day intermission is two days longer than the Olympic break in 2010, when the NHL shut down after games Feb. 14 and resumed with one game March 1.
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