During the 2020-21 NHL season, the NHL had to create changes to their current format and scheduling due to the pandemic to ensure the safety of the league and players. These changes include many creative and interesting ideas. Here are some of the key changes for the 2020-21 NHL season. Can they still be used during a normal 82 season?
The first main difference is the divisions; usually there are the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central and Pacific divisions. However, due to the closed borders, the seven Canadian teams are not allowed to cross the border to play their American opponents. This season, the NHL realigned the divisions to have the East, Central, West and North (Canada) division which most fans seem to love. These divisions have generated a ton of fun and exciting matchups thus far and will continue to over the course of the season.
Normally, the NHL season is 82 games with 4-5 games with teams within the division, three games with teams within the conference and two games with teams in the other conferences. But due to the pandemic and the high risk of teams flying across the country, the NHL has limited the amount of games to 56 (due to late start) and every team will face their division opponents 8-10 times a year. Along with that, to limit traveling, the NHL has a baseball-style series schedule where teams play each other between 1-5 in a row. This would help limit the spread of the virus and reduce the cost and risk of traveling.
There has been much talk regarding if the NHL will continue to use the format in the future and the answer to that is probably not. Next year, the new expansion team, the Seattle Kraken, will join the NHL which will likely cause everything to return back to formal. When Seattle joins, there would be nine teams in the West while only being seven in the Canadian division. With the arrival of the Kraken, the league would have to realign the divisions to balance the divisions.
As for the baseball-style schedule, the NHL may implement that in the scheduling. Even though traveling and divisions will return back to normal, the baseball-style schedule brings new competitiveness and aggressiveness for teams playing each other consecutively, similar to the playoffs. Therefore teams and the league might enjoy the playoff-type atmosphere for regular-season games.