(AP) — Hockey is on Jan. 13 after the NHL and players reached a deal Sunday to host a 56-game season that would include playoffs that will last until July to award the Stanley Cup.
The league’s Board of Governors approved the deal Friday night, backed by the NHL Players Association’s Board of directors. The regular season is scheduled for May 8 with a 16-team playoff series.
“It will be exciting to walk away,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a video call. “It was a difficult year and a journey.”
The season will be very unusual in at least one title: there will be four divisions — North, South, East and West — and all games will be held in the first two rounds of the playoffs to minimize travel and the potential for coronavirus disrupting the season. The Northern division contains only the seven Canadian teams.
“The current plan is to play in the stadiums of the participating teams while understanding that most arenas cannot accommodate fans, at least in the first part of the season,” the NHL said.
The league allows, if necessary, to play games in neutral places. Final details on where the Canadian teams will play were still pending until agreements were reached with federal and national health officials.
However, the obstacles will not be enough to prevent the start of the season without a quarantined bubble.
“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “While we are aware of the challenges ahead, as was the case last spring and summer, we continue to focus on the health and safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and play.”
The NHL finished last season in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, with players, coaches and employees isolated from the public and tested daily for viruses.
“The players are pleased to have agreements for the upcoming season that will be unique, but also very exciting,” said NHLPA general manager Don Fehr. “In these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with the entertainment they need when players return to the ice.”
Most of the league will open training camp Jan. 3. the seven teams that did not make the playoffs last season can start from Dec. 31. There won’t be any exhibition games until it starts.
Critical dates, such as the close of trade and the last possible day for the end of the Stanley Cup final, and the full schedule are expected to be released in the coming days. In all three U.S. divisions, teams compete eight times.
“It’s not easy,” said Wilson, whose Sharks will host a training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, given sports restrictions in Santa Clara County, California. “In my opinion, complexity far outweighs what they had to do last year at the restart, because they now travel across states and go to different cities and different things. But as it landed with divisions, it makes sense to me on paper.”