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How New Divisions, Schedule Will Work in 2020-21 NHL Season

Canes to play 56 games in Central Division

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

The National Hockey League's 2020-21 season is going to look a little bit different, but the good news is that hockey will be back in less than a month's time.

Here's a breakdown of the new divisions, the schedule and the playoff format for the upcoming season.

The New Divisions

Travel restrictions at the United States-Canada border and broader COVID-19 health concerns necessitate temporary realignment for the 2020-21 season.

The seven Canadian teams will comprise a single division, while the remaining 24 U.S.-based teams will be split into three divisions of eight.

The Canes will play in the Central Division, which also includes the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The newly formed Central Division is a hodgepodge collection of teams from the previous Metropolitan, Atlantic and Central Divisions. It includes three Western Conference teams, two of the Canes' old Southeast Division opponents, the 2019-20 Western Conference champions and the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Canes posted a 10-7-1 record against these seven opponents in the shortened 2019-20 season.

The Schedule

Each team will play the entirety of its 56-game schedule within its division. That makes for a straightforward schedule matrix, at least for the three U.S. divisions, in which each team will face its seven divisional opponents eight times apiece. The seven teams in the North Division will see their six divisional opponents nine or 10 times apiece.


Formal training camps will begin on Sunday, Jan. 3, and there will be no preseason games.

The Canes' full 56-game schedule is expected to be released in the coming days.

The Playoffs

With temporary realignment and no discernible Eastern and Western Conferences, the playoffs will shift to a divisional format.

The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which will feature four rounds of best-of-seven series. The first two rounds of the playoffs will showcase intradivisional play, with the first-place team facing the fourth-place team and the second-place team facing the third-place team within each division in the First Round and the winners then squaring off in the Second Round. The four teams that advance to the Semifinals will be seeded by their points total in the regular season, with the familiar 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 match-up structure. The two remaining teams will then compete for the Stanley Cup.

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