By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – Who’s ready for some NHL hockey?
I am because unlike the Return to Play that was the hiccup release to finish the 2019-2020 season, this season’s slate of games will take place in teams’ home arenas.
I know, I know – ‘how can you think about this so positively?’ – there’s a pandemic that continues to rage on with the hardship and sorrow that has wrought residual illness and death upon millions globally.
If your degrees of separation from the coronavirus hasn’t yet been cut down to one, you are very fortunate.
What are you doing?
So why is there joy in anticipating a new NHL season?
Because for many, the Covid-19 blues, restlessness – [insert any other descriptor for loss of patience] – have firmly set in.
The everyday routine of sheltering and maneuvering cautiously in and around individual and familial bubbles is ready to burst, if it hasn’t already.
No, fans will not be able to attend any games in Raleigh – PNC Arena is off limits for practices and games as announced by the team on Wednesday.
Limited media credentials for game coverage will also be available, so you’ll have to more accurately calibrate your local on-site coverage via television and radio, social media and website sources.
So, as a result, all 31 teams, via their owners and the league, in agreement with the players, struck a deal to play the season out in a modified manner.
The moral questioning and criticism of that decision as being unsafe for the players and coaches, league, arena, and support personnel, and their families, has and will churn throughout the season.
The NHL’s success in completing last season’s playoffs in ‘bubbles’ set up in Toronto and Edmonton provided the impetus to have confidence in enacting now practiced and established protocols while relevant localized ones have been set to follow and hopefully not endanger the health of all involved at local sites.
Looking at the schedule
The NHL’s 868-game regular-season schedule – 56 games per team – will begin Jan. 13 and end by May 8th.
With the shortened schedule – playing 26 less games than previous seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes will face five teams more often than they have in the past due to a divisional realignment.
It’s not a bad thing to give the eyes a different look – at least for this historic season anyway.
Did you know 2020-21 marks the first regular season in league history in which teams will play four consecutive games against one opponent?
Playing division opponents in multiple sets of two games where possible and up to four times, double back-to-backs – yes four straight games – the Hurricanes will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in their ‘really get to know/hate each other’ series Mar. 18-25 – two at home and two away.
Representing games 29-32, consider that playoff implications-type hockey coming at you on a screen near you.
Personally, I will be glad to watch more matchups against the likes of Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas, among the others.
The style of play these teams presents a slightly different juice to the mix in the reformed Central Division.
I’m an old-school admirer of the Original Six, so seeing the Blackhawks and Red Wings sweaters never gets old with me.
‘What about the playoffs?’, you ask.
Let’s take it one game at a time for now.
Going retro is a thing now?
Giving all every fanbase something to get excited about, the NHL continues history making, as the upcoming season marks the first time in league history that all 31 teams will participate in a league-wide alternate jersey rotation.
Hail the Whale!
Carolina fans have already reacclimated with the team’s original charter organization precursor, the Hartford Whalers for the past few seasons.
The nostalgic ode to franchise history, Hartford Whalers Night has already spawned the spread of green amongst red and white, and black.
Mix in some grey for 2020-21, and the team’s fashion palette tones down a little, but still pops.
When the designs were released, adidas described the process as a “two-year-long process to mine each team’s jersey archive and team colors, remixing them to create something new and never seen before.”
Their answer was flipping the colors.
Simple enough, I guess – even if it took that long to figure out.
Not sure if there will be enough stimulus money left, but a personal choice if adding to your game wear inventory is possible this year.
By the way, if you are big into proudly wearing the Whale, please read up on the team’s history and the team’s place in the history of the game too.
Don’t just wear it – live it.
There are a lot of cool nuggets buried there, including YouTube clips of iconic and now-departed play-by-play man Jon Forslund establishing the tone and pace of broadcasting back then that all in the Triangle eventually came to know as synonymous to the Hurricanes.
Did you see that?
It wouldn’t be a normal start to the NHL season without a rule change to clarify and confuse players and coaches as well as those watching and covering the game.
This year, Rule 83.1 Offside was the lucky focus of attention with a subtle, but important clarification on what the status of a player’s skate is in relation to contact with the leading plane of the blue line into the attacking zone.
Beginning in the 2020-21 regular season, a player’s skate will not have to be in contact with the blue line in order to be on-side.
Here’s the exact wording that will be listed in the rule book:
“A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line. On his own side of the line shall be defined by a “plane” of the blue line which shall extend from the leading edge of the blue line upwards. If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be on-side for the purpose of the off-side rule.”
Don’t worry, unless you’ve taken officiating certification rules tests and know how to peruse through the book’s legalese and terminology like I had to ‘back in the day’, here is a helpful video explanation:
Drop the puck!
Hurricanes training camp starts Jan. 3, so we’ll all get reacquainted then – on social media.
In the meantime, arrange that viewing calendar and charge up your smart phones, tablets, and get your streaming and apps ready.
As the folks at Sportsnet say, “It’s on!”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport