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Everything you need to know about the 2021 NHL season, so far

It’s been a whirlwind of rumors and doubt, but the NHL season is officially happening.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

After a Sunday afternoon Board of Governors call, the NHL and NHLPA have come to an official agreement for a 56-game season to begin on Jan. 13.

While the schedule is not set to be released until next week, the regular season will wrap up on May 8, with the uniquely familiar postseason beginning soon after. Each division will have their top-four teams play internal playoff rounds — first place playing fourth, second place playing third — until one final team is left standing for the Stanley Cup semi-finals sometime in the summer. The hope is that the Cup will be awarded in mid-July, to make time for a “regular” off-season and start to the 2021-22 season.

Initially, no fans will be allowed at the games, but each game will be played at the home arena, unless there are local restrictions preventing them. The NHL appears to be prepared to play in “neutral sites” if necessary.

For all the key dates around the league, we turn to our friends over at CapFriendly, just so I don’t have to painstakingly write every date.

All of this fun and future-looking for how the season is going to turn out isn’t truly about the NHL until we need to read the fine print and have taken at least one year in law school to really understand it all.

Again, our pals have figured out the minutiae of the taxi squad for the upcoming season.

It’s fairly straight forward, but as we all discovered earlier this weekend, the extra set of players will require waivers — should the player require waivers for a normal demotion — and will have the same cap hit effect as being sent down to the minors; a maximum of $1.075-million coming off the cap per player.

Even after the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and St. Louis Blues bouncing between various restructured divisions, the NHL has released the list with their official titles.

North: Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto-Winnipeg-Edmonton-Calgary-Vancouver

East: Boston-Buffalo-New Jersey-NY Islanders-NY Rangers-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Washington

Central: Carolina-Chicago-Columbus-Detroit-Florida-Dallas-Nashville-Tampa Bay

West: Anaheim-Arizona-Colorado-Minnesota-Los Angeles-Las Vegas-San Jose-St. Louis

As the numbers tell the story, each team in the East, Central and West divisions will play each other eight times, while the North will face-off nine or 10 times.

While this appears to be a finalized plan, the NHL is still leaving room to stay mobile depending on the current state of COVID-19 and how the various states and provinces are handling the pandemic, according to the press release:

Given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHLPA and the NHL intend to be flexible and adaptable in their approach during the coming weeks to ensure compliance with directives from both local and national governmental and health authorities focusing on the health and safety of the players, other game-related personnel and the communities in which we play. The priority will continue to be focused on the health and safety of our fans and Players and Club, League, NHLPA and arena personnel.

One man is certainly happy that the season is officially starting.

“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season, especially since the Return to Play in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the press release. “While we are well aware of the challenges ahead, as was the case last spring and summer, we are continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and play. And, as was the case last spring and summer, I thank the NHLPA, particularly Executive Director Don Fehr, for working cooperatively with us to get our League back on the ice.”

Speaking of Fehr and the players, he decides to look on the bright side and view the return to play as an escape for us fans.

“The Players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting for the fans and Players alike,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director, in the release. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”