COLUMN: NHL January Recap

New divisions focal point at start of season

Hockey is back and out of the bubble. The 2020-21 NHL season is underway and just over two weeks of play have wrapped up. 

The 56-game shortened season is not that shocking in length. Less than a decade ago, the 2012-13 season was shortened to 48 games due to a lockout.

Despite the general start date and season duration being comparable, that’s where the similarities to the past stop. This season is unlike any other.  

Now let’s look at the changes as well as which teams started the new year right, and who’s hoping next month doesn’t turn into Groundhog day for them.


New Divisions

With no travel permitted between the U.S-Canada border due to Covid-19, all seven Canadian franchises are in their own division: the We are the North Division!

Okay it’s just the North, but you know the other version sounds cooler. 

Each team will play their northern neighbors nine or 10 times. Let’s see how polite they are around the fifth and sixth meeting between Calgary and Edmonton. 

The East Division is the least changed by the realignment. Essentially take the Metropolitan Division of the last seven years and swap out Columbus and Carolina for Boston and Buffalo. 

This is also being viewed as the group of death in tournament play and soccer terminology. Before the pause last season in March, four of the teams in the East were in the top seven in total points. 

Add to that four of the last five Eastern conference champions, and three of the last five Stanley Cup champions hail from the east. Good luck getting a playoff spot in this division. 

The West Division couples the three California teams, Vegas, and Arizona with additions from the prior Central Division’s Colorado, St. Louis, and Minnesota.

With the Blues just a season removed from the Cup, Vegas two years out from making it, and the Avalanche full of youth and speed, the talent of the West will be on full display all season. 

Given that to likely be your top three in some order, the fight for fourth will be where to look for late season drama in this division.

Last but not least we have the Central Division, or as I like to call it: the hodgepodge. 

Let’s be honest. If you ever made a custom season on an NHL game, Madden, MLB, or you name it; this is the division where after you were so pleased with the first three, this is what’s left and you go sure, why not? 

I give the NHL a ton of credit for how they handled the end of last season and came up with a plan for this one. The Central has a fair amount of interesting rivalries and even a few rival reunions. 

Chicago and Detroit are enemies again for the first time since 2013. Add in Columbus and Nashville, and you have four out the five teams from the old central of 2000-2013.

Throw in Tampa Bay and Dallas playing eight times after just last summer battling for lord Stanley, and this division has some juice. 

Just don’t kid yourself. The only thing central about this group is the name. It’s a highly entertaining geographical mess. 

Now that you’re all caught up, let’s see who’s hot and cold heading for February.


Hot: Colorado Avalanche

At 6-3, the Avs top the West with 12 points and are on a three-game win streak as of Jan. 30. Colorado also posts the best goal differential in the league at plus 14. 


Cold: Ottawa Senators

New uniforms and a new goaltender in Matt Murray haven’t fixed the situation in Ottawa. The Sens are the only team in the league with just one win, are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and have the worst goal differential at minus 19. 


Cold: San Jose Sharks

The Sharks have had to start the season with an extended road trip due to the contact sports ban in Santa Clara county, so cut them some slack. San Jose is last in the West and has lost two in a row. Their first home game won’t be until Feb. 13 after the ban is lifted.


Hot: Washington Capitals

In month one with new head coach Peter Laviolette, the Caps lead the East and the league with six wins, 15 points and no regulation losses. After back to back first round playoff exits, Washington looks refreshed on the bench and ready to make another run at the cup. Just one suggestion: don’t win the president’s trophy, you should know why.