Finally, the NHL lockout is no more and the sport we love will take to the ice for the 2012-2013 season. The schedule has been released with highlights listed below.
The season opens on January 19 with 26 out of 30 teams playing. The season will extend over 98 days, ending on April 27th with 13 games to played that day. The playoffs begin three days later on April 30th.
Teams will have a condensed, 48-game schedule, consisting of only inter-conference games being played. That is correct, the only time this year a Western and Eastern conference team will face-off against one another is in the stanley Cup Finals in June.
With inter-conference being the schedule this season, inter-division rivalries will hopefully reach a new level. Teams will play 18 of their games against their division opponents. Eight of the 18 games will be part of a four game series against two division opponents, consisting of two home and two away games; five games will be played against one division opponent with three games being at home and the other two being away; and lastly, five more games will be played against the last divisional opponent with two home and three away games to be played.
The teams within each division to watch is plentiful, but here is a list of teams to pay special attention to:
- Atlantic: The New York Rangers added Rick Nash, Philadelphia Flyers are called the Broad Street Bullies for a reason, and the Pittsburgh Penguins hope to keep everyone healthy.
- Northeast: The Boston Bruins should walk away with the division lead, yet here is the Eastern Conference battle of Canada with the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs set to play.
- Southeast: The Florida Panthers surprised everyone last year by taking the division lead; Carolina Hurricanes have added some depth; the Winnipeg Jets are in their second year back in the city; and then you have Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning seeing Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals four times this season.
- Central: Four of the teams made the playoffs, but can that happen again this year? The Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues should repeat, but what about the Nashville Predators with their off-season players lost?
- Northwest: A lot going on in this division. Captain Jarome Iginla may be playing his final season with the Calgary Flames; the Minnesota Wild have a few big named players to transition into the system; and the Vancouver Canucks have swapped out their starting goalies. And again, we have another Canada showdown with the Calgary Flames, Edmonton oilers and the Vancouver Canucks.
- Pacific: You never know what to expect here, but all eyes will be on the defending Stanley Cup Champions the Los Angeles Kings.
The remaining 30 games will be played outside of their division against the remaining conference opponents. Teams will play three games each against those teams, with half of those opponents being a two home and one away series, and inversely, the other half being one game at home and the remaining two games away.
While it is unfortunate no Western Conference teams will play against any Eastern Conference teams this season, the inter-conference games and inter-division rivalries add a lot of value to the season. With an increased urgency to perform, with every game being extremely important to win, the season should carry an intensity that we typically do not see during a full length season.
Important Schedule dates below:
- Opening Day: Saturday, Jan. 19
- Hockey Day in Canada: Saturday, Feb. 9
- Hockey Day in America: Sunday, Feb. 17
- Regular season concludes: Saturday, Apr. 27
- NHL Draft Drawing: Monday, Apr. 29
- Stanley Cup Playoffs begin: Tuesday, Apr. 30
- Latest possible date for Stanley Cup Final: Friday, June 28