Tomorrow, the new National Hockey League 2021 season will get underway with a clash of Pennsylvania’s two big guns the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
However, it is going to be a quite different look to the new season compared to last thanks to a number of changes the league has made ahead of the season.
Rule Changes & Reorganisation for the NHL 2021 Season
The regular season has been adjusted to 56 games which will be played from January 13 to May 8. In addition, the seven Canadian teams have all been placed into one division (North) for this season due to cross-border travel restrictions between the US and Canada. This will be reversed for the following season.
The newly aligned four divisions for the 2021 season are as follows:
- Central – Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning.
- East – Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals
- North – Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets
- West – Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, St Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights.
Teams in each of the four divisions will play against opponents from that division only during the regular season. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the 16-team playoffs which will get underway in May 2021.
So far, it has not been clarified how Canadian or US teams will be able to cross the border for playoff matches, although it is hoped that by then, this may not be an issue, or that special dispensation for the teams may be granted to facilitate the playing of the games.
Who are Favorites to Lift the Stanley Cup?
A quick look at the NHL Championship odds for the season reveal that DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Colorado Avalanche as the +650 favourites to win the Stanley Cup. Last season, in a somewhat hastily curtailed season, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning who defeated the Dallas Stars to claim their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Let’s now take a look at five of the teams reckoned to be in with a chance of lifting Ice Hockey’s most famous trophy this season.
Colorado Avalanche +650
With the exciting Nate MacKinnon spearheading their team, the Avalanche look set for a solid season, especially after their fine, if unexpected, showing in last year’s playoffs brought them to wider attention.
Add to that some smart moves in the off-season, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Pierre Eduoard-Bellemare and Valeri Nichuskin have all come in and it seems coach Jared Bednar now has the bedrom for a team ready to make a genuine run at the Championship.
Tampa Bay Lightning +750
One of the most consistent teams of the last few seasons, the Lightning finally claimed their second Stanley Cup in 2020 in defeating the Dallas Stars across six games. The signing of Patrick Marron was a key part of that, as was the play of Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos.
However, they have lost a number of players over the off season and the general feeling is that the team is not perhaps quite as strong as it once was. Still, a relatively comfortable regular season beckons where the Lightning should take their place in the playoffs once again.
Vegas Golden Knights +800
The signing of the top defensive talent available in the off-season Alex Pietrangelo has got Golden Knights fans bullish about their chances this season. With Shea Theodore emerging in 2019-20 too, defensively the Golden Knights look very well set.
With a solid forward line, minus the traded Paul Stastny, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty will continue their partnership that has been productive the last few years and the Golden Knights should be one of the top teams in the new West conference.
Toronto Maple Leafs +1100
The Maple Leafs will want to avoid the slow start that dogged them last season and saw Mike Babcock fired as head coach. Sheldon Keefe took over and guided the team into the playoffs but saw them lose disappointingly to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round.
Marner, Tavares, Barrie, Andersen and Matthews are all excellent players and will form the backbone of the Maple Leafs Challenge this year where they will hope to improve on last season’s showing.
Boston Bruins +1500
Although an ageing squad and having lost Torey Krug in Free Agency, the Bruins were a force last season once again in the regular season, sitting atop the NHL with a 44-14-12 record and it is likely that they will be in the mix again this season.
With the likes of Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie arriving via trade deals, and prospects like Urho Vaakanainen and Jack Studnicka set to step up, the Bruins are likely to be the team to beat in the East.