Pandemic-altered NHL schedule is the new norm
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
We were a much more structured team than people recognize. – Kevin Lowe
The 2021 NHL season—pandemic edition—starts this week. In December, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that a 56-game season would begin on January 13. In a virtual panel discussion at the World Hockey Forum in Moscow on December 16, Bettman stated, “Right now, we’re focused on whether or not we’re going to play in our buildings and do some limited traveling or play in a bubble, and that’s something we’re working on and getting medical advice on.”
Due to the pandemic, teams in similar geographic regions will be playing against each other multiple times. No teams will travel across the Canadian and US border. And for this season only, the four realigned divisions will have naming rights for the first time in league history. Notably, all seven Canadian-based NHL teams will be playing in the Scotia NHL North Division. The other three divisions are the Honda NHL West Division, the Discover NHL Central Division, and the Mass Mutual East Division. If you like monotony, equivalent to staying home every day in 2020 due to COVID-19—you will be sure to love this upcoming NHL season!
The Vancouver Canucks will have a noticeably different roster with several players leaving via free agency in the off-season: Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Jacob Markström, Tyler Toffoli, Oscar Fantenberg, Louis Domingue, and Josh Leivo. The Canucks acquired two players, defenceman Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights, and goalie Braden Holtby from the Washington Capitals. Also, the Canucks signed veteran defenceman, Travis Hamonic, to a professional tryout contract. The Canucks will open the 2021 campaign with back-to-back road games in Edmonton (January 13 and 14) followed by a two-game road trip in Calgary (January 16 and 18). Then the Canucks play their first home game against the Montreal Canadiens (set of three home games against the Habs on January 20, 21, and 23).
Regarding the current Canuck roster, star forward Elias Pettersson kept himself busy during the holiday season. In December, the Canucks filmed a holiday promo video featuring Pettersson singing Christmas carols with singer Michael Bublé outside Canuck Place. Bublé did all of the singing and Pettersson played along and was a good sport. At the end of the segment, Pettersson is heard saying, “I just realized I don’t know any of these songs!” Nonetheless, Pettersson has shown to be a solid role model and ambassador for the Canucks as he has been prominent in representing the franchise in multiple team initiatives and videos.
In other NHL news, several players moved to different teams. Corey Perry signed in Montreal and Joe Thornton inked a deal in Toronto. In addition, longtime Boston Bruins defenceman, Zdeno Chara, signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals worth $795,000. Chara, who is 43 years old, refused to accept a limited role with the Bruins.
Also, some sad news, former Edmonton Oilers coach, John Muckler, passed away on January 4 at age 86. Muckler was a member of the Oilers coaching staff that won Stanley Cups in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990—the latter with Muckler as head coach. Kevin Lowe, former Oilers defenceman, played for Muckler during those cup-winning years. “After we were swept by the Islanders in the  finals, John Muckler’s fingerprint on the team began,” Lowe said in an email interview with the Other Press. “We were a much more structured team than people recognize. John Muckler was well spoken. When he spoke, he never [candy-coated] anything. It was like hearing from your parents. You didn’t like to hear it, but you knew he was right no matter how difficult it was to hear.”
Lastly, goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who signed with the Washington Capitals in October 2020, is recovering after undergoing successful open-heart surgery on January 8. Lundqvist had announced previously that he would be sitting out the 2021 season due to a heart condition. On December 28, Lundqvist posted on Twitter: “Last [three] weeks my focus has shifted from training camp and the upcoming season to my health and what I can and can’t do. Scheduled for […] open heart surgery now—aortic valve replacement, aortic root, and ascending aortic replacement, to be more exact. We all have our mountains to climb. Staying positive here and set on the road to recovery.”
Vancouver Canucks January 2021 game schedule:
January 13 and 14, road games versus Edmonton Oilers
January 16 and 18, road games versus Calgary Flames
January 20, 21 and 23, home games versus Montreal Canadiens
January 25, 27 and 28, home games versus Ottawa Senators