Hey, we noticed you're in Canada but are currently viewing our US site. Would you like us to take you to the Canadian site, or do you want to stay on the US site?
Picking up what we're putting down? We thought you might be. Sign up for our free twice-weekly newsletter to get "the gist" of what's going on in the sports world in less than 5 minutes.
Skip to Content

Everything you need to know about the 2021 NHL season

Hockey

The big day is finally here: the new NHL season is set to start in just a few hours. So before the first puck drops, get “the gist” on all things NHL.

January 13, 2021
Everything you need to know about the 2021 NHL season

The format

The temporary setup: As is the case in these very abnormal times, the NHL is shaking things up. Their new regular season will run from tonight through May 8th, with each of the 31 teams scheduled to play 56 games (down from the usual 82).

  • And unlike past seasons, teams will play only against their divisional opponents. Talk about déjà vu.

The new divisions: To cut down on travel and to work around the still-closed U.S.-Canada border, the league has done away with conferences and instead introduced four realigned divisions. If you’re about old-school rivalries, this is the season for you.

  • The three American divisions — East, West and Central — are made up of eight teams each, while the North Division features the seven Canadian teams. Get ready for multiple battles of Ontario, Alberta, Pennsylvania and New York.

The ultimate goal: Once the regular season wraps up in May, the journey to the Stanley Cup will begin. The top four teams from each division will move on to the two-month-long postseason, which is set to give us our first-ever Stanley Cup in July.  

 

Teams to watch

North Division: GISTers living in Eastern Standard Time are in for a treat, as the surging Vancouver Canucks, usually hidden away during late-night Western Conference games, will finally be watchable before bedtime. The Canucks aren’t the most popular Canadian team, but they might be one of the best. 

East Division: The Boston Bruins are perennial favorites...to win the Stanley Cup, that is. Outside of New England, they’re the team that everyone loves to hate, but for good reason. They won the Atlantic Division last season and will likely be at the top of the East Division this season.

West Division: If we were forced to place a bet today on this year’s Stanley Cup winner, we’d have to go with the Colorado Avalanche. Based on what we saw last season and what the 2021 team looks like on paper, these guys are the ones to beat.

Central Division: For the first time in NHL history, the two teams that played in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals are in the same division. 2021, you wild. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be playing to defend their title, while the Dallas Stars are looking for revenge. Bring on the drama.

 

Players to watch

Forwards

Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche): Not only is MacKinnon the best Av, he’s also the best active player to have yet to hoist the Cup. This could — and should — be the year MacKinnon takes home all the hardware. No pressure.

Taylor Hall and Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres): The first overall 2010 draft pick (and friend of The GIST) and the 2015 second overall pick are this season’s must-watch duo, and the pairing is expected to be “lethal.” Okay, bro.

Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals): Ovi is just 25 goals from the No. 5 spot on the most career goals list and 14 power play (PP) goals away from the all-time PP goals record. He could move up the multi-goal games leaderboard, too. Records are made to be broken.

Other forwards to watch: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (pronounced DRY-SIGH-TIL) (Edmonton Oilers), Alexis Lafrenière (New York Rangers), Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs).

Defense

Roman Josi (Nashville Predators): The Preds will need to score a lot more than last season if they want to be serious contenders for the Cup, but they can at least rely on captain Josi to keep the puck out of their own zone. Watch out for the Norris Trophy winner to defend his title this year.

Victor Hedman (Lightning): Hands down, Hedman is the best defender in the league right now (unless you’re talking to Roman Josi fans). He blocks shots, kills penalties and appreciates art. What more could you ask for?

Shea Weber (Montreal Canadiens): The Habs have made some moves recently, so it’s helpful to have a steadfast player like Weber to anchor the team amidst change. We also want to keep an eye on him in case he shoots a puck through the net again.

Matt Dumba (Minnesota Wild): We’re actually excited to see what Dumba can do off the ice. He’s a founding member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), and the NHL has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Other defensemen to watch: Dougie Hamilton (Carolina Hurricanes), Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo (pronounced PUH-TRAN-GEH-LOW) (Vegas Golden Knights), Cale Makar (Avalanche).

Goalies

Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets): The Jets didn’t have the greatest showing last season, but that was through no fault of Hellebuyck. He’s the NHL’s best netminder, and the hopes and dreams of all hockey fans in that big middle part of Canada are resting on his shoulders.

Carey Price (Canadiens): No stranger to the pressure of a hockey-crazed city, Price is yet again leading the charge for a Habs’ Stanley Cup, and he’s doing it in a pretty sweet mask.

Other goalies to watch: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning), Tuukka Rask (Bruins), Frederik Andersen (Leafs).

 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

New rules: Dua Lipa may have given us three rules to abide by, but the NHL only wants you to know about one: the offside rule. Starting today, a player’s skate won’t have to be in contact with the blue line to be considered onside. A small change that’s a BFD. This video can help explain it a bit better.

Different teams: Resident giant (he stands at 6 feet 9 inches, off skates) and oldest active player in the league, Zdeno Chára (pronounced Z’DEHN-OH), is a Washington Capital now. After 14 seasons as a Bruin, it’s going to be super weird to see him in anything but black and yellow.

Gone girl goalies: Just days after Washington Capitals goalie Henrik Lundqvist announced his successful open heart surgery (no, he’s not playing this season) last week, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford announced his shocking retirement. They’ll both be missed.

 

Women making their mark

Kendall Coyne Schofield: An Olympic gold medalist, six-time World Championship winner and first woman to compete (and slay) in an NHL All-Stars skills competition, Coyne Schofield is adding player development coach to the resume with her new role in Chicago.

Kim Davis: The NHL Executive VP of Social Impact, Growth Initiative and Legislative Affairs, Davis has been in her role for three years now, but with all that we experienced in 2020, you better believe Kim will be making waves in 2021.

Cammi Granato: The Seattle Kraken still have a season before they step onto the ice, but Granato, former Team USA captain and the NHL’s first female scout, is in the thick of it. October can’t come soon enough.

  • P.S. The Kraken also have a female Director of Hockey Administration in Alexandra Mandrycky, a female VP of Strategy and Analytics in Kendall Tyson and VP of Team Finance in Stephany Keeley. We stan them so hard already.


THE GIST’S PICKS

WHAT TO CHECK OUT:

The NHL’s fire Reverse Retro alternate jerseys. For the first time, each team will be rocking an alternate inspired by a jersey the franchise wore in a previous season. With so many cool designs and color schemes, it’s hard to pick just one.

WHAT TO PLAY:

Interested in learning more about fantasy football? Well, now’s your chance. We have our own GIST-exclusive fantasy contest that refreshes each week of the playoffs.

  • Whether you’re totally new to fantasy or have already dipped your toes, this one’s super easy and fun to play. So grab a friend and register to play for real cash prizes here.*

WHO TO CELEBRATE:

The unsung heroes of the NHL: dressing room DJs. Pump up the jams and check out this article on the music NHLers play before games and how they’re chosen to handle the aux.

WHAT TO WATCH:

A visual history of a quirky hockey tradition: booing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Each year, the commish is booed during the presentation of the Stanley Cup. The NHL even pre-recorded boos for the fan-less 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Stay rowdy, hockey fans.

WHAT TO READ:

This article on the formation of the HDA, their efforts to partner with the NHL and the HDA’s subsequent decision to operate independent of the league. Here’s to sustained change and action in the new season.

*P.S. This is a sponsored post. We promise you’re going to love it.