What Should We Expect in 56-Game NHL Season?

Photo credit:Dave Sandford/NHLI via USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 years ago
The NHL Board of Governors is having a meeting at 2 p.m. MST today and while they likely won’t vote on the new proposed plan for the 2021 season today, they will probably unofficially agree to it while discussing the plan. It will include temporary new divisions (hello, Canadian division), scheduling, COVID protocols and important dates like the trade deadline etc. Yesterday, Darren Dreger reported that both sides have agreed to the financial terms from the Memorandum of Understanding, signed in June as part of the CBA extension, and it will remain as is.
Some owners won’t like that, but will they loathe it enough to vote “no” on the new plan? The Board of Governors needs two-thirds approval, and while some owners are upset the players didn’t defer more money this season, I’d be surprised if there are enough of them to derail the season and vote no. Two different management-types told me via text they expect the BOG to approve the new plan.
So it looks like the season will start in mid-January, possibly as early as January 13th, and the plan is to play 56 games. The three American divisions still haven’t been decided, as some teams are lobbying to be in different divisions. Some teams won’t be happy with the division they are in, but it would be impossible to appease all 31 teams.
We’ve watched two 48-game seasons in 1995 and 2013, so a shortened season isn’t new, but those two seasons were shorter than the proposed 56-game schedule, were played with fans in the stands and had more than inter-divisional games.
What will the divisions look like? We don’t know 100%, but it will be close to the following. This makes the most sense geographically, while maintaining rivalries in the same division.
Canadian Division: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.
West Division: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights.
Central Division: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Redwings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, St.Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lighting.
East Division: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
The plan is to only play divisional games. The Canadian division has seven teams, so they would play four teams nine times and two teams 10 times. You could have Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver each play the other one extra game, then Toronto plays Montreal and Ottawa and Winnipeg faces Ottawa and Montreal.
The three American divisions consist of eight teams so they would play each other eight times.
The schedule will be a bit different than usual, with teams likely playing two games (possibly three) on the road against the same team, before moving to the next city. It reduces travel and the risk of getting COVID.
I’d love to see the NHL incorporate this in 2021/2022 and beyond as well. Instead of the Oilers having a four-game road trip in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Arizona, they would play four games, but have two in San Jose and two in Anaheim. It reduces travel, players get more rest and there are fewer flights, which is better for the environment. You can’t do it for every road trip, but even if you start with two or three to start it is a step in the right direction.


Dec 6, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) and forward Leon Draisaitl (29) discuss a play during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
In a normal NHL season, we see more goals in October and November than we do later in the season as players get back up to speed.
How much more offence will we see to start this season when players have only played between 0-25 games since March 12th? I think it is safe to assume more, because there will be no preseason games, some players and teams will be rusty and teams with a sharp powerplay could really feast in January and February.
Here is a look at the top-five scorers through the first 56 games (that their team played) over the past three seasons.
Nikita Kucherov: 30-41-71
Connor McDavid: 23-43-66
Johnny Gaudreau: 18-48-66
Phil Kessel: 24-41-65
Steven Stamkos: 21-44-65
Kucherov: 24-60-84
Mcdavid: 31-51-82 (55 GP)
Patrick Kane: 33-49-82
Johnny Gaudreau: 29-48-77
Mikko Rantanen: 24-51-75
Leon Draisaitl: 32-57-89
McDavid: 30-51-81 (55 GP)
Nathan MacKinnon: 32-48-80
David Pastrnak: 38-39-77
Artemi Panarin: 29-47-76 (55GP)
The previous two seasons we saw the top-five scorers’ point totals increase from the 2018 campaign. Draisaitl, Kucherov, McDavid, Kane and MacKinnon all produced 80+ points through 56 games. It is realistic to think that will continue this season, and with Draisaitl scoring 89 last season, it wouldn’t surprise me if he, McDavid or another elite NHL scorer tallied 90+ points this coming season. In fact, I expect it will happen.
What about 100 points? That would be quite the accomplishment and something, at least points-per-game wise (1.78), we haven’t seen in a long time.
Only 10 players in NHL history averaged 1.78 points in a season, and all of them played at least 56 games: Wayne Gretzky (11 times and the lowest was 1.95), Mario Lemieux (seven times and the lowest was 1.78), Phil Esposito twice (1.95 and 1.86) and Steve Yzerman (1.94), Bernie Nicholls (1.90), Adam Oates (1.89), Jari Kurri (1.85), Mike Bossy (1.84), Jaromir Jagr (1.82) and Bobby Orr (1.78) each did it once.
Jagr and Lemieux were the most recent, ripping up the league in 1996 when Jagr tallied 149 points in 82 games and Lemieux had 161 in 70 games (2.30 P/G).
With no preseason and likely wide-open play to start this season, this might be the best chance for McDavid, Draisaitl or one of the other elite scorers to chase 1.78 P/G.
I hope it happens.


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Package #2: Draisaitl signed Jersey
Feb 8, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates after a goal against the Nashville Predators in the third period at Rogers Place.
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