The start of the 2020-21 NHL season is now only a couple of weeks away. The NHL only unveiled its plans for the upcoming season a little over a week ago, so fans and NHL bettors have only a short time to prepare themselves for the season ahead.
An altered 56-game season will get underway on January 13, and instead of wrapping in June as is the case most years, the Stanley Cup will be lifted in July. Due to issues posed by the ongoing pandemic, the NHL will look rather different for at least this season. The league’s seven Canadian teams will all combine to comprise the North Division, while the other 24 teams will be split up into the East, West, and Central divisions.
2020-21 NHL Season Divisional Realignment
North: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets
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
West: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights
In the retooled playoff format, the top four teams from each division will make the postseason, with the first two rounds consisting of teams playing within their divisions again–1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 from each division in the first round, then the winners of those series facing off in the next round–before teams get reseeded for the conference finals based on regular-season point totals. While this means that Tampa Bay and Boston will not play during the season, it does mean that the top two of the other leading favorites, Colorado and Vegas, will face off eight times in the regular season. It also means that the Stanley Cup Finals could be a true 1 vs. 2 matchups based on records without divisions or conferences being a factor, something that could make fans of other sports rather envious.
With the season now having a concrete start date and format, opening odds for games on January 13 and 14 are already available, and there are some big-time matchups slated for the first couple of days of action. Opening day on the 13th features Philadelphia (-110) hosting Pittsburgh (-110), Toronto (-140) hosting Montreal (+120), and Colorado (-140) hosting St. Louis (+120). The next day, the New York Rangers (-110) host the New York Islanders (-110), and Edmonton (-110) hosts Vancouver (-110).
In the latest 2020-21 Stanley Cup champion odds, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning are still well-placed as one of the leading favorites, even with last week’s news that star forward Nikita Kucherov will miss the entire regular season due to hip surgery. The Lightning, who saw off the Dallas Stars in five games in the playoff bubble to win the Stanley Cup just a few months ago, is +950 to be only the second team in the last couple of decades to lift the Cup in back-to-back years. The leading favorites, however, are the Colorado Avalanche (+700) and the Vegas Golden Knights (+800), while Boston (+1200), Philadelphia (+1400), Toronto (+1500), Pittsburgh (+1800), St. Louis (+1800), and Washington (+1800) all have odds shorter than +2000. Dallas, last season’s runner-up, is at +2000 to go one step further this season.
Odds via FanDuel as of Tuesday, December 29 (10:30 am ET)