Covid-19 forces division reshuffle, cuts season in NHL

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Washington (AFP)

A National Hockey League season disrupted by Covid-19 even before the first puck drops kick off Wednesday with defending champion Tampa Bay among the Stanley Cup contenders.

The campaign has been shortened from 82 games per club to 56 and is set to run through May 8 in home arenas with a playoff to follow in July, giving hope for a return to a normal start in October for the season. 2021-22.

The teams have been realigned due to travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. Border with the seven Canadian clubs in their own division and new eight-team rosters in three uniquely US divisions.

The Dallas Stars have already seen their first four games postponed, two in Florida and two in Tampa Bay in a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, after six players and two staff members had tested positive last week for Covid-19.

And without spectators in the stands at most clubs for most of the season due to the deadly virus, the league is at risk of losing more than $ 1 billion, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday.

“We’re coming back to play this season because we think it’s important for the game,” Bettman said. “It would be cheaper for us to close the doors and not play. ”

Bettman said spectator income is half of all NHL income.

“Everyone is going to waste a lot of money doing this,” Bettman said.

Only Dallas, Florida and Arizona plan to have a limited number of spectators for games among the 31 NHL teams.

There has been a similar-to-normal off-season hiatus since the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup on September 28, beating Dallas four-game-two in the NHL’s best-of-seven final in a Covid-bubble. 19 in Edmonton.

It ended four days less than a year after the opening of the 2019-20 season, concluding a campaign halted on March 12 by the pandemic with expanded playoffs in August and September in quarantine bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton who have not seen any positive tests for Covid-19.

Regular season and pre-season NHL competitions in Europe, outdoor competitions in Minnesota and North Carolina and the NHL All-Star Game in Florida have all been wiped out due to Covid-19 issues .

But Vegas will face Colorado and Boston will meet Philadelphia outdoors at Lake Tahoe in February.

The Lightning have had the most wins, playoff wins and goals scored in the NHL in the past six seasons and are set to challenge the Cup again with healthy Steven Stamkos after missing most of the playoffs. of Tampa Bay, Andrei Vasilevskiy strong in goalie and Victor Hedman anchoring a strong defensive unit.

The divisional reshuffle makes Dallas a divisional rival instead of an enemy of the opposite conference, with Carolina and Nashville also likely to fight among rivals in the center.

– Bouchons Ovechkin Sparks –

Alex Ovechkin of Washington, whose 48 goals shared the NHL lead last season with David Pastrnak of Boston, has led the league in goals for seven of the past eight seasons and is hoping the Capitals can repeat the race for the title. 2018 Stanley Cup under the direction of new coach Peter Laviolette.

The Capitals are also home to the oldest and tallest player in the NHL (6’9 ”, 2.06m) of defenseman Zdeno Chara, 43, and the NHL’s top player in backliner production, John Carlson, who scored 60 goals last season while scoring. 15.

Boston, which led the NHL with 44 wins last season, should also be a factor with Pastrnak and quick physical training.

Colorado, powered by 35-goal scorer Nathan MacKinnon, will be favorites in the West with the Vegas Golden Knights, who lost to Washington in the 2018 Finals in their inaugural season and reached the Conference Finals. of the West last year before falling to Dallas.

Canada, crazy about hockey, will have a season like no other with its seven teams playing only each other.

The Edmonton Oilers are expected to be a force behind stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while the Toronto Maple Leafs, triggered by 47-goal scorer Auston Matthews, are also vying for the Canadiens’ bragging rights.

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