By Christopher Trick, Staff Writer
The 2021 NHL season saw players seeking to compete with rival teams in the midst of a global pandemic and a sluggish economy, providing players and fans with some much-needed relief from the gloomy realities of the outside world.
There are four divisions within the NHL: North, East, Central, and West.
For the sake of limiting travel across the U.S.-Canadian border during the pandemic, the NHL instituted a divisional realignment to give both players and fans the best and safest experience possible.
The Northern Division consisted of the following teams: the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Winnipeg Jets.
The East Division consisted of the following teams: the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres, the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Washington Capitals.
The Central Division consisted of the following teams: the Carolina Hurricanes, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Dallas Stars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Florida Panthers, the Nashville Predators, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The West Division consisted of the following teams: the Anaheim Ducks, the Arizona Coyotes, the Colorado Avalanche, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota Wild, the San Jose Sharks, the St. Louis Blues, and the Vegas Golden Nights.
Initially, fans were not allowed in the stadiums for most teams, but the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes allowed a limited number of fans at their home games. Social distancing protocols were enforced, and coaches were required to wear masks around players.
The season began on Jan. 13 and set to end on May 8.
The NHL will have a 16-team playoff. The top four teams from each division will compete in a round-robin to decide the division winners. Then the remaining four teams will be re-seeded based on point totals and face off for another round-robin format to determine the Stanley Cup Championship. All rounds will be best of seven.
The playoffs begin on May 11 and end sometime in July.
Aaron Wayne, a freshman finance major, is looking forward to watching the Islanders compete for a title.
“I hope the Islanders see some success,” Wayne said. “I’ve been watching the Islanders since I was a kid. They’re a part of who I am, and I’d love to see them do well.”
Tara Eckhardt, a junior English major, is excited for what is to come of the unusual playoff format this season.
“It’s a little confusing to keep up with all these divisional changes,” Eckhardt said. “But hopefully, an exciting end to the season is on the horizon. Go Islanders!”
Though the season may have seemed different, the spirit and devotion of NHL fans and players persist, and executives are determined to have a successful end to the season.
“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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.