NHL·The Buzzer

What we know and don't know about the 2021 NHL season

CBC Sports' daily newsletter breaks down what's locked in and what still needs sorting out after the NHL and the players struck a deal to start playing Jan. 13.

Some teams still can't even say where they'll be playing

Due to the 2021 divisional format, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid won't play each other until at least the final four of the playoffs. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The NHL is back (again)

For the second time this year, the NHL and its players' association reached a deal to play hockey under weird circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what we know and don't know about the 2021 season.

Teams will play 56 regular-season games — around two-thirds of the usual 82. They start Jan. 13 and end May 8. So those 56 games will be played in just 116 days. There are no pre-season games.

Training camps start in as soon as 10 days. The seven teams who didn't qualify for the bubble last summer can begin gathering Dec. 31. Camps for the other 24 teams open Jan. 3.

Some other key dates are happening later than normal. None of the following are official yet, but here's what being reported:

  • Trade deadline: April 12
  • Stanley Cup awarded: mid-July
  • Expansion draft for the new Seattle team: July 21
  • Entry draft: July 23-24
  • Free agency: July 28

Those are all about a month later than they'd usually be. And the season is starting three months later than we're used to. So that gives you an idea of how compressed things are. Everything is being crammed in as quickly as possible so that the league can get back to normal and start the 2021-22 season in early October.

The all-Canadian division is real. Due to border restrictions and a general desire to reduce travel, the NHL realigned the 31 teams. There are still four divisions, but here's what they look like now:

You'll be getting déjà vu a lot. All regular-season games are intradivisional, so get ready to see the same matchups over and over. The teams in the three U.S. divisions will play each other eight times. In the seven-team Canadian division, they'll play each other either nine or 10 times. The schedule hasn't been released yet, but the NHL hopes to do that this week.

The playoffs are a little different too. It'll still be a 16-team tournament with best-of-seven series. But there are no wild cards. Only the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, and they'll square off against each other in the first two rounds (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 in the first round). The four division playoff champions then meet in the semifinals, with seedings determined by regular-season points. This means we won't see a non-divisional game until June. It also means a Canadian team is guaranteed to be in the final four for the first time since Winnipeg in 2018.

We don't know where everyone is going to play. There's no bubble for the regular season, and teams' situations differ depending on local rules. Where permitted, they'll play out of their home arenas. Some in the U.S. even hope to have fans in attendance right from the start. But others might not be allowed in their home arenas at all — even if they're empty. That includes the San Jose Sharks and the seven Canadian teams — the latter are all awaiting approval from their provincial governments.

Considering Alberta opened the door for the world juniors this week and the curling bubble later this winter, we can probably assume the Oilers and Flames are good to go. But things are less certain for the other five Canadian teams, so it's still possible the entire North division moves to a hub either in Canada (most likely Edmonton) or somewhere in the States. Read more about the NHL's return plans here and watch a quick two-minute breakdown in this video by Rob Pizzo.

Quickly ...

Canada's Vasek Pospisil won the comeback player of the year award in men's tennis. Back surgery cost him most of 2019, but Pospisil finished last year strong — including a brilliant performance for Canada at the Davis Cup Finals. The 30-year-old carried the momentum into 2020, reaching two tournament finals and the fourth round of the U.S. Open during the abbreviated season. In doing so, he raised his ranking from a low of 248th in October 2019 to his current 61st. Read more about Pospisil's rebound here.

Canadian ski cross racers Reece Howden and Marielle Thompson ended the year with a bang. The final World Cup competitions of 2020 took place today in France, and Howden won the men's event while Thompson took bronze in the women's. This is the second World Cup victory of Howden's career and his second podium in as many days. He took silver in yesterday's race. For Thompson, this was her third podium in four races this season. The 2014 Olympic and 2019 world champion picked up a silver last Wednesday and a bronze yesterday. Read more about today's races and watch highlights here.

And in case you missed it …

A few things from the weekend you should know about:

Tiger Woods and his son were pretty cute. The almost-45-year-old golf great and 11-year-old Charlie played together in a televised father-son team event called the PNC Championship. They finished seventh, five shots behind PGA Tour star Justin Thomas and his dad, but the Woods duo definitely won the internet with their matching outfits (red shirt with black pants on Sunday, of course) and Charlie's Tiger-like club twirls and fist pumps. Read more about them and watch highlights here.

L.P. Ladouceur broke the record for most NFL games played by a Canadian. If you've never heard of him, don't feel bad. Ladouceur is the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper — a role that tends to only get noticed when the guy makes a horrible mistake. Ladouceur doesn't do that. The 39-year-old from Montreal hasn't botched a snap (or missed a game) since joining the Cowboys in 2005. Yesterday's 41-33 win over San Francisco was the 251st NFL game of his career, moving him past former kicker Eddie Murray for the most ever by a Canadian. Read more about Ladouceur and the record here.

The Jets won! But really they lost. By upsetting the Los Angeles Rams 23-20 yesterday (as 17-point underdogs!), New York improved to 1-13 on the season and avoided becoming only the third team in the NFL's modern era to lose all of its games. Unfortunately, the Jets are now tied with Jacksonville for the worst record in the league, which this year comes with the chance to draft can't-miss quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence. So even when the Jets win, they still lose.

The Bills won their first division title in 25 years. When Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and coach Marv Levy led Buffalo to its last AFC East crown, in 1995, current star quarterback Josh Allen wasn't even born. The last quarter century has seen the Bills field a lot of bad teams while New England dominated the division. But, suddenly, the Patriots dynasty is in ruins, Allen is playing like an MVP candidate and the Bills are one of the best teams in the NFL for the first time since their '90s heyday. The only bummer is that the best fanbase in the league hasn't been able to watch this season in person. But that didn't stop a crowd of very enthusiastic Bills fans from greeting the team when it landed at the airport following Saturday's division-clinching rout of Denver. Check out the scene here. And know that no tables were harmed in the making of this video.

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