It's a lot to take in, though, so here's what Blue Jackets fans need to know. Just a friendly reminder, though -- the NHL and its players association said Sunday they plan " to be flexible and adaptable in their approach," and if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it's that a curveball might always be right around the corner. But here's what we know about the slate as of right now.
When does it start?
Ahh, yes, the big question. The Blue Jackets open the season Jan. 14 in Nashville and will play four games away from Nationwide Arena before the home opener Jan. 21 against Tampa Bay. The schedule will then conclude four months later with a May 8 home game against Detroit.
Among other key dates, the trade deadline will be April 12, while there will be no All-Star Game. The previously scheduled game, set to be hosted by Florida this season, has been pushed back a year.
How is this different from a normal schedule?
A big question off the bat. "What's the same?" would probably elicit a shorter answer.
First of all, the Blue Jackets will be in a new division. Because of travel issues brought on by the pandemic, the league has created a Canadian-only division -- the (Great White) North -- and reconfigured the rest of the American teams. That means for this year only, the Blue Jackets will move from the Metropolitan Division to the Central Division, which includes Metro foe Carolina, as well as normal Atlantic Division teams Detroit, Florida and Tampa Bay as well as Chicago, Dallas and Nashville, who have moved from the Western Conference.
Secondly, it's a 56-game schedule rather than an 82-gamer, with the plan to finish up May 8 across the league in order to get in the usual two-month, 16-team battle royale that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs before the end of July. Teams this year will only play divisional squads, which means the Blue Jackets will meet the Hurricanes, Red Wings, Panthers, Lightning, Blackhawks, Stars and Predators eight times apiece.
This is different, isn't it?
Yes, it is, as Columbus played its Metropolitan rivals just four times apiece a year ago, so that's a big change.
In addition, to ease up on travel, all but four of the 56 games on the CBJ schedule will be played in two-game series, almost like a baseball schedule or a college hockey slate. For example, following the opener in Nashville, the teams will meet again Jan. 16 in the Music City before Columbus plays two Jan. 18-19 in Detroit. The Blue Jackets then head home for games Jan. 21 and 23 vs. Tampa Bay and an ensuing two-game series Jan. 26 and 28 against Florida. It will certainly be a change -- and it's easy to see how some snarl might evolve in these games, too.
The only outliers? Split series at home vs. Detroit (March 2, April 27) and at Carolina (Feb. 16, May 1).
How does this new Central Division compare to the Metro?
In other words, did the Blue Jackets come out ahead on this swap?
Well, time will tell. We'll fully break down the foes as we get closer to the season, but both alignments put the Blue Jackets up against some difficult opponents. The Metro a year ago was stacked, as it included recent Stanley Cup winners Washington and Pittsburgh, rising Carolina and Philadelphia teams and a New York Islanders team that has proved to be a tough out under Barry Trotz -- not to mention New York Rangers and New Jersey teams that have been stocked with high draft picks in recent years.
Meanwhile, welcome to the Central, which includes both Stanley Cup Final participants a year ago in eventual winner Tampa Bay as well as Dallas. Add in the Canes and you're off to a pretty good start as far as talent in the division, while Nashville isn't too far removed from its own Western Conference title. Under new general manager Bill Zito, a familiar face in Nationwide Arena, Florida appears to be on the rise, while Chicago still has guys named Toews and Kane, and Detroit made some noise in the free agent market after finishing last in the league a year ago.
And it's the NHL -- no matter who you play, it's tough every night.
How compact is the schedule?
In a word, very, although it's not all that different from what teams would normally face in the second half of an NHL season.
Columbus, for example, is scheduled to play its 56 games over 115 days, just under a game every other day. (For a reference point from last season, the Blue Jackets were scheduled to play their last 31 games after the All-Star break over 63 days, and that's with significantly more travel involved.)
And while there will be a lot of hockey taking place from January to May, there aren't a ton of back-to-backs. Columbus will play eight times on consecutive days in this schedule -- Jan. 18-19 (both at Detroit), Jan. 28-29 (first at home vs. Florida, then at Chicago), Feb. 7-8 (both vs. Carolina), Feb. 27-28 (both at Nashville), March 27-28 (both at Detroit), April 3-4 (both at Florida), April 19-20 (both at Florida) and May 7-8 (both vs. Detroit). A normal 82-game regular season often contains 18 or 19 back-to-backs for the Jackets, so this is less than usual.
Also, there are 10 instances in which Columbus will have two days between games and one spot in which the Blue Jackets will have three days off -- April 28-30.
What else stands out?
If you're the Blue Jackets, you have to like the fact that the season will end at home, as Columbus is scheduled to play five of its last six at Nationwide, including a four-game homestand to end the year with two apiece vs. Nashville and then Detroit.
There's also one instance in which the Blue Jackets will play four straight games against a team -- Columbus visits Carolina for games March 18-20, then welcomes the Hurricanes to the capital city for contests March 22 and 25. It's almost a playoff-style schedule, which could lead to playoff-style intensity.
Lastly, there won't be any of the scheduling quirks that lead to getting more than halfway through the season without seeing an opponent (for example, Columbus didn't play Vancouver for the first time a year ago until March). The Blue Jackets will play all seven of their new Central Division foes within the first seven series of the year.
There's still some things to figure out, of course. Game times and broadcast information will be firmed up over the coming weeks, and if you're a uniform aficionado, the dates the team will wear its third jerseys as well as its Reverse Retro togs are still to be announced.
But get ready. On Jan. 14, the Blue Jackets will be back.