The NHL released its 2021-22 regular-season schedule on Thursday night, featuring realigned divisions, a rebalanced schedule and a lengthy Olympic break if the league's players participate in the 2022 Beijing Games.
The schedule, which was announced on SportsCenter, returns the NHL to a full 82-game regular season after playing 56 games in 2020-21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opening night is Tuesday, Oct. 12, featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will raise their Stanley Cup championship banner. The expansion Seattle Kraken will also play their first game as they travel to Las Vegas to take on the league's other recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Both games are part of an opening-night doubleheader simulcast on ESPN and ESPN+.
The 1,312-game regular season concludes April 29, when 30 of the league's 32 teams will be in action.
The schedule has a significant pause starting on Feb. 3 that includes both NHL All-Star Weekend and an Olympic break. All-Star Weekend is scheduled for Feb. 4-5 in Las Vegas. The Olympic break begins on Feb. 7 and runs through Feb. 22.
The NHL agreed to work toward a return to the Olympics in its collective bargaining agreement with the players last summer. Negotiations are ongoing with the NHLPA and the International Ice Hockey Federation on outstanding issues, which includes appropriate COVID-19 insurance for NHL players in Beijing. If either the NHL or the NHLPA opt not to go to the Olympics, a revised regular-season schedule will be released that will attempt to adopt the dates and games in the current schedule.
Gone are the temporary divisions from last season, including the All-Canadian North Division, as the league's teams revert back to the alignment they had in the 2019-20 season: the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions in the Eastern Conference and the Central and Pacific divisions in the Western Conference.
The Kraken, the NHL's 32nd franchise, will join the Pacific Division. The Arizona Coyotes are moving to the Central Division beginning next season.
The addition of the Kraken altered the NHL's schedule balance. Each team will play one home and one away game against opponents in the other conference; three games against the teams in the other division on their conference; and either four games or three games against the teams within their own division.
The NHL opted not to continue having multi-game "homestands" for teams against the same opponent in the same city, which were a prominent part of the 2020-21 schedule and popular among the players.
"I know the coaches liked it and the players had some time for it. It does get old in some respects when you have to do an entire season of it. There was a small appetite to have more of a trial with it, but the schedule-makers were under a tough situation," said Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. "I think it was a lot easier when we were in a COVID situation and there were no building issues at that time. You've got teams that have multiple tenants, concerts, all the wonderful things that we've missed. I think that came into play when they tried to put it to practical use [this season]."
Among the key dates in the NHL 2021-22 schedule:
Saturday, Oct. 23: The Kraken play their first home game at Climate Pledge Arena against their geographic rival, the Vancouver Canucks.
Tuesday, Dec. 7: The Montreal Canadiens host the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Final.
Saturday, Feb. 26: The Lightning become the 27th NHL team to participate in an outdoor game as they travel to face the Nashville Predators in a Stadium Series game at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans.
Beginning with the 2021-22 season, ESPN+ and Hulu will be home to 75 exclusive, national NHL game telecasts, and ESPN+ will be the exclusive home for NHL's out-of-market streaming package, with more than 1,000 games available for fans to stream as part of an ESPN+ subscription.