The sprint that will be the 2012-13 NHL regular season starts Jan. 19 as 26 of the League's 30 teams open their schedule. It ends 98 days later with a final-day slate of 13 games on April 27.
The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin three days later.
But before that can happen, each team will play 48 games entirely against clubs within its own conference. There will be no interconference play until the Eastern and Western champions arrive at the Stanley Cup Final in June.
The 2012-13 schedule matrix will accentuate the most-heated rivalries in the game, especially with each team playing 18 of its games against division foes. Eight of those 18 games are against two of the teams in the division (four each; two home and two away); five games (three home and two away) are against one team from the division; and five games (two home and three away) are against the remaining divisional opponent.
Clubs will play three games against each of the 10 remaining non-divisional opponents from within the conference, playing half those clubs in a two-home, one-away series and the other half in a two-away, one-home set.
Things certainly start with a bang Jan. 19.
The defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who defeated the New Jersey Devils in a six-game Final last June, raise their banner before a matinee game (3 p.m. ET) against the Chicago Blackhawks that will be carried by NBC in the U.S. and CBC in Canada. Both networks will cover the pregame ceremony.
A riveting playoff rematch is the other matinee TV game that Saturday: The Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Philadelphia Flyers to renew acquaintances in the battle for Keystone State bragging rights. NBC will carry that game regionally after the Kings' banner raising.
That night, NHL Network viewers in the United States will see the first of its 78 live games this season when the New York Rangers, and new star Rick Nash, visit the Boston Bruins.
Canadian fans will enjoy a CBC triple-header on Opening Night. In the afternoon, the Ottawa Senators visit the Winnipeg Jets. Then, at 7 p.m. ET, the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Montreal Canadiens to renew their passionate Original Six rivalry. Finally, the Anaheim Ducks close out the night with a game against the Vancouver Canucks at 10 p.m. ET.
Three nights later, Canada's TSN kicks off its national coverage with a doubleheader: Winnipeg at the Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET), and the San Jose Sharks at the new-look Edmonton Oilers (9:30 p.m. ET).
Many other marquee games are included across the League's 99-day schedule, which features at least one game every night.
Here are just a few of the highlights:
Jan. 19, Columbus at Nashville – There wasn’t a player who had a more tumultuous offseason than Shea Weber. He signed a monstrous offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers worth $110 million over 14 seasons, but the Predators matched it to maintain their franchise defenseman and captain. How the fans at Bridgestone Arena react in Weber’s first home game since all that went down will be interesting.
Jan. 26, Los Angeles at Phoenix – There was no love lost between these teams during the Western Conference Finals last season. The series ended in five games just seconds after the Kings’ Dustin Brown hit Michal Rozsival after a whistle in overtime. Dustin Penner scored 12 seconds later as Coyotes captain Shane Doan barked at officials from the bench. This game will be played on a powder keg.
Feb. 5, N.Y. Rangers at New Jersey – The Rangers return to the site of their Game 6 overtime loss to the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals that ended their Stanley Cup run and propelled the Devils into the path of the champion Kings. This will mark Rick Nash’s induction into the Hudson River rivalry.
Feb. 26, Carolina at Washington – Ask a Capitals fan about Alex Semin and you’ll likely receive a long-winded response involving praise and frustration for the talented sniper. After seven seasons with Washington, Semin signed a free-agent deal with the Southeast rival Hurricanes. Semin’s return to Verizon Center will make for a fun night.
March 9, Minnesota at Nashville – Predators general manager David Poile did everything he could to sign UFA Ryan Suter this summer, but after seven seasons in Nashville, Suter joined fellow UFA Zach Parise in Minnesota. The emotions will run high both in the seats and on the ice when Suter plays his first game in Nashville as the enemy.
March 26, Montreal at Pittsburgh – History shows Dan Bylsma as the coach of the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. But it was Michel Therrien, who was fired by the Penguins with 25 games remaining in the regular season, who spent three-plus seasons developing the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins installed Bylsma, who was coaching the club’s AHL affiliate, and the rest was history. This will be Therrien’s first game in Pittsburgh since he was dismissed.
April 20, Phoenix at Chicago – Perhaps the scariest sight of last year’s postseason was Blackhawks star Marian Hossa being taken off on a stretcher after a hit from the Coyotes' Raffi Torres, who was suspended 25 games and later had the punishment reduced to 21 games. By the time this date rolls around, Torres will be back and making his return to Chicago. Assuming Torres is in the lineup, the fans at United Center will probably spend most of the game expressing their displeasure.
April 27, Carolina at Pittsburgh – On the eve of the 2012 NHL Draft, Jordan Staal passed on a 10-year, $60 million deal with the Penguins. This led to GM Ray Shero trading Staal to the Hurricanes, allowing Staal to play with big brother, Eric. The way this schedule shakes out, Jordan, a member of the Penguins’ 2009 championship team, doesn’t come back to Pittsburgh until this final day of the regular season.
April 27, Phoenix at Anaheim, Philadelphia at Ottawa, Detroit at Dallas – The season’s final night could be the swan song for three surefire Hall of Famers: Teemu Selanne of the Ducks, Daniel Alfredsson of the Senators and Jaromir Jagr of the Stars. All three have one-year contracts and are north of 40 years old. The Ducks and Stars missed the postseason last year, while the Senators narrowly qualified as the No. 8 seed in the East, which means none of these teams are locks to get to the playoffs. This could be the end of three illustrious careers in the same night.
Opening Day: Saturday, Jan. 19
Hockey Day in Canada: Saturday, Feb. 9
Hockey Day in America: Sunday, Feb. 17
Regular season concludes: Saturday, Apr. 27
NHL Draft Drawing: Monday, Apr. 29
Stanley Cup Playoffs begin: Tuesday, Apr. 30
Latest possible date for Stanley Cup Final: Friday, June 28